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THE MODERN LIBRARY 

OF THE WORLD'S BEST BOOKS 


ALL THE KING’S MEN 


The publishers will be pleased to send, upon request, an 
illustrated folder setting forth the purpose and scope of 
THE MODEEN LIBEARY, listing each volume 
in the series. Every reader of books will find titles he 
has been looking for, handsomely printed, in definitive 
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ALL 

THE KING’S 

Kien 


hy ROBERT PENN WARREN 

! , ii 

WITH A NEW INTRO.PUCTION BY THE AUTHOR 


Mentre che la speranza ha fior del verde. 

LA DIVINA COMMEDIA, PURGATORIO, III 



THE MODERN LIBRARY ‘ NEW YORK 



Copyright, 1946, by Harcourt, Brace and Company, Ine. 
Copyright, 1953, by Random House, Inc. 


All rights reserved, including the right to 
reproduce this book or portions thereof in 
any form. 


Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 53-7891 


Random House is the pubeisher of The Modern Library 

BENNETT A. CEEF ' DONALD S. KLOPFER ROBERT K HAAS 


Manufactured in the United States of America 
By H. Wolff 



Introduction 


Some time in the winter of 1937-38, when I was teaching 
at the Louisiana State University, in Baton Rouge, I got the 
notion of doing a verse play about a Southern politician who 
achieved the power of a dictator, at least in his home state, 
and who was assassinated in the Capitol which had been the 
scene of his triumphs. As well as I can recall, the notion began 
to take on some shape when, sitting one afternoon on the 
porch of a friend's cottage, I began to describe my intentions. 

Very often it is in conversation during the germinal stage 
of a project that I stumble on my meanings, or they stumble 
on me, and I recall this particular conversation rather vividly 
because it was then that I hit on the idea that the politician — 
then unnamed — would not simply be a man who by force or 
fraud rises to absolute power, offends the principles of de- 
cency and democracy, and then is struck down by a self- 
appointed Brutus. There would be no drama to such a story — 
no “insides," no inner tensions, no involvement of the spec- 
tator's own deep divisions. My politician would be — or at 
least I was groping toward some such formulation — a man 
whose personal motivation had been, in one sense, idealistic, 
who in many ways was to serve the cause of social betterment, 
but who was corrupted by power, even by power exercised 
against corruption. That is, his means defile his ends. But 
more than that, he was to be a man whose power was based on 
the fact that somehow he could vicariously fulfill some secret 
needs of the people about him. The choruses — and it was in 
talking about the place of the choruses in the proposed verse 
play that the notion came — were to develop this in a subsid- 
iary way — a chorus of builders, a chorus of highway patrol- 
men, a chorus of surgeons, etc. And, naturally, each of the 
main characters should bear such a relation to the politician, 


1 



even the Brutus assassin. But over against his power to fulfill, 
in some degree, a secret need of those about him, the politi- 
cian was to discover, more and more, his own emptiness and 
his own alienation. So much for that conversation in the un- 
seasonable sunshine of a Louisiana winter day. 

The play did get written. I wrote a couple of choruses in 
the next few months. In Italy, the next summer, the summer 
of 1938 , 1 got a little more done, beginning the process, I re- 
call, in the late afternoon, in a wheat field outside of Perugia. 
The thing dragged on all the next winter and spring, in 
Louisiana, with a bit done after classes and on week-ends, but 
the bulk of the play was written in Rome, in the fall and win- 
ter of 1939, with the news of the war filling the papers and the 
boot heels of Mussolini’s legionaries clanging on the stones. 
During that time I was deep in Machiavelli and Dante. Later, 
in the novel All The King's Men, Machiavelli found a place 
in the musings of Jack Burden, and Dante provided the epi- 
graph. 

When the play was finished, it was somewhat diEerent from 
the thing dreamed up in the conversation with my friend. 
For instance, another theme had crept in — the theme of the 
relation of science (or pseudo-science) and political power, 
the theme of the relation of the science-society and the power- 
state, the problem of naturalistic determinism and respon- 
sibility, etc. At least, if such grand topics did not find explicit 
place in the play, and if I did not pretend to wisdom about 
them, they were casting a shade over the meditations of com- 
position. The play, by the way, had the title Proud Flesh. I 
was rather pleased with the double significance of the phrase. 

I mailed oE the play to some friends back home. I knew 
that it was not finished, but I would postpone the rewriting 
for the benefit of the judgment of my first readers and my own 
more detached contemplation. Back in America, in the sum- 
mer of 1940, 1 did do some rewriting, with the subtle criticism 
and inspiring instruction of Francis Fergusson. But still the 
play was not, to my mind or taste, finished. And besides, I had 



already begun a novel, to appear as At Heaven's Gate, which 
was drawing on some of the feelings and ideas involved in the 
play. 

It was not until the spring of 1943 that I began again on 
the play. I had taken the manuscript out of its cupboard with 
the intention of revising it, but immediately I found myself 
thinking of the thing as a novel. That idea wasn’t entirely 
new. Now and then I had entertained the possibility of mak- 
ing a novel of the story. But now, all at once, a novel seemed 
the natural and demanding form for it, and for me. 

This new impulse was, I suppose, a continuation of the 
experience of writing A t Heaven's Gate, just as that novel had 
been, in a way, a continuation of Proud Flesh. Despite impor- 
tant contrasts, there were some points of essential similarity 
between my businessman hero, Bogan Murdock, in At Heav- 
en's Gate, and the politician hero of the play. And even some 
of the contrasts between them were contrasts in termis of the 
same thematic considerations. For example, if Bogan Mur- 
dock was supposed to embody, in one of his dimensions, the 
desiccating abstraction of power, to be a violator of nature, a 
usurer of Dante’s Seventh Circle*, and to try to fulfill vicari- 
ously his natural emptiness by exercising power over those 
around him, so the politician rises to power because of the 
faculty of fulfilling vicariously the secret needs of others, and 
in the process, as I have already said, discovers his own empti- 
ness. But beyond such considerations, the effort of At Heav- 
en's Gate had whetted my desire to compose a highly docu- 
mented picture of the modem world — at least, as the modem 
world manifested itself in the only region I knew well enough 
to write about. 

There was, however, another consideration, if one can use 
such a term of scruple and calculation to describe the coiling, 
interfused forces that go into such a “literary” decision. This 

*■11 was this Circle that provided, with some liberties of interpretation 
and extension, the basic scheme and metaphor for the whole novel. 
All of the main characters are violators of nature. 

iii 



consideration was a technical one — the necessity for a chaiac- 
ter of a higher degree of self-consciousness than my politician, 
a character to serve as a kind of commentator and raisonneur 
and chorus. But since in fiction one should never do a thing 
for merely a single reason (not if he hopes to achieve that feel- 
ing of a mysterious depth which is one of the chief beauties of 
the art), I wanted to give that character a dynamic relation to 
the general business, to make him the chief character among 
those who were to find their vicarious fulfilment in the dy- 
namic and brutal, yet paradoxically idealistic, drive of the 
politician. There was, too, my desire to avoid writing a 
straight naturalistic novel, the kind of novel that the material 
so readily invited. The impingement of that material, I 
thought, upon a special temperament would allow another 
perspective than the reportorial one, and would give a basis 
for some range of style. So Jack Burden entered the scene. 

But that is not quite a complete account of his origin. In 
Proud Flesh, at the time when Dr. Adam Stanton is waiting 
in the lobby of the Capitol to kill the Governor, and is medi- 
tating his act to come, an old friend, now a newspaperman, 
approaches him, and for one instant the assassin turns to him 
with a sense of elegiac nostalgia for the innocence and sim- 
plicity of the shared experiences of boyhood. This character, 
who appears so fleetingly in the last act of the play to evoke 
the last backward look of the dedicated assassin, gave me Jack 
Burden. And the story, in a sense, became the story of Jack 
Burden, the teller of the tale. 

The composition of the novel moved slowly, in Minneap- 
olis, in 1943 and through the spring of 1944, in Washington 
through the rest of the year and up till June of 1945, in Con- 
necticut in the summer of 1945. The work was constantly in- 
terrupted, by teaching, by some traveling, by the duties of my 
post in Washington, by the study for and writing of a long 
essay on Coleridge. The interruptions were, in some way, wel- 
come, for they meant that the pot had to be pushed to the 
back of the stove to simmer away at its own pace. The book 

iv 



was finished in the fall of 1945, back in Minneapolis, the last 
few paragraphs being written in a little room in the upper 
reaches of the Library of the University of Minnesota. The 
book, after a good deal of revision along the way, with the 
perceptive criticism of Lambert Davis of Harcourt, Brace and 
Company, was published in August, 1946. 

One of the unfortunate characteristics of our time is that 
the reception of a novel may depend on its journalistic rele- 
vance. It is a little graceless of me to call this characteristic un- 
fortunate, and to quarrel with it, for certainly the journalistic 
relevance of All the King's Men had a good deal to do with 
what interest it evoked. My politician hero, whose name, in 
the end, was Willie Stark, was quickly equated with the late 
Senator Huey P. Long, whose fame, even outside of Louisiana, 
was yet green in pious tears, anathema, and speculation. 

This equation led, in different quarters, to quite contradic- 
tory interpretations of the novel. On one hand, there were 
those who took the thing to be a not-so-covert biography of, 
and apologia for, Senator Long, and the author to be not less 
than a base minion of the great man. There is really nothing 
to reply to this kind of innocent boneheadedness or gospel-bit 
hysteria. As Louis Armstrong is reported to have said, there's 
some folks that if they don’t know, you can’t tell ’em. 

But on the other hand, there were those who took the thing 
to be a rousing declaration of democratic principles and a 
tiact for the assassination of dictators. This view, though 
somewhat more congenial to my personal political views, was 
almost as wide of the mark. For better or for worse, Willie 
Stark was not Huey Long. Willie was only himself, whatever 
that self turned out to be, a shadowy wraith or a blundering 
human being. 

This disclaimer, whenever I was callow enough to make it, 
was almost invariably greeted by something like a sardonic 
smile or a conspiratorial wink, according to what the inimical 
smiler or the friendly winker took my motives to be — either 
I wanted to avoid being called a fascist or I wanted to avoid 


V 



a lawsuit. Inow in making the disclaimer again, I do not mean 
to imply that there was no connection between Governor 
Stark and Senator Long. Certainly, it was the career of Long 
and the atmosphere of Louisiana that suggested the play that 
was to become the novel. But suggestion does not mean iden- 
tity, and even if I had wanted to make Stark a projection of 
Long, I should not have known how to go about it. For one 
reason, simply because I did not, and do not, know what 
Long was like, and what were the secret forces that drove him 
along his violent path to meet the bullet in the Capitol. And 
in any case. Long was but one of the figures that stood in the 
shadows of imagination behind Willie Stark. Another one of 
that company was the scholarly and benign figure of William 
James. 

Though I did not profess to be privy to the secret of Long's 
soul, I did have some notions about the phenomenon of which 
Long was but one example, and I tried to put some of those 
notions into my book. Something about those notions, and 
something of what I felt to be the difference between the per- 
son Huey P. Long and the fiction Willie Stark, may be indi- 
cated by the fact that in the verse play the name of the poli- 
tician was Talos — the name of the brutal, blank-eyed “iron 
groom" of Spenser's Faerie Queene, the pitiless servant of the 
knight of justice. My conception grew wider, but that element 
always remained, and Willie Stark remained, in one way, 
Willie Talos. In other words, Talos is the kind of doom that 
democracy may invite upon itself. The book, however, was 
never intended to be a book about politics. Politics merely 
provided the framework story in which the deeper concerns, 
whatever their final significance, might work themselves out. 

ROBERT PENN WARREN 

New York City, March, 1953- 


vi 



ALL THE KING'S MEN 




Chapter One 


MASON CITY. 

To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the 
city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, that day we 
went up it. You look up the highway and it is straight for miles, 
coming at you, with the black line down the center coming at and 
at you, black and slick and tarry-shining against the white of the 
slab, and the heat dazzles up from the white slab so that only the 
black line is clear, coming at you with the whine of the tires, and 
if you don’t quit staring at that line and don’t take a few deep 
breaths and slap yourself hard on the back of the neck you’ll hyp- 
notize yourself and you’ll come to just at the moment when the 
right front wheel hooks over into the black dirt shoulder off the 
slab, and you’ll try to jerk her back on but you can’t because the 
slab is high like a curb, and maybe you’ll try to reach to turn off 
the ignition just as she starts the dive. But you won’t make it, of 
course. Then a nigger chopping cotton a mile away, he’ll look up 
and see the little column of black smoke standing up above the 
vitriolic, arsenical green of the cotton rows, and up against the 
violent, metallic, throbbing blue of the sky, and he’ll say, “Lawd 
God, hit’s a-nudder one done done hit!” And the next nigger 
down the next row, he’ll say, “Lawd God,” and the first ni^r will 
giggle, and the hoe will lift again and the blade will flash in the 
sun like a heliograph. Then a few days later the boys from the 
Highway Department will mark the spot with a little metal square 
on a metal rod stuck in the black dirt off the shoulder, the metal 
square painted white and on it in black a skull and crossbones. 
Later on love vine will climb up it, out of the weeds. 

But if you wake up in time and don’t hook your wheel off the 
slab, you’ll go whipping on into the dazzle and now and then a car 
will come at you steady out of the dazzle and will pass you with a 
snatching sound as though God-Almighty had ripped a tin roof 
loose with his bare hands. Way off ahead of you, at the horizon 

3 



where the cotton fields are blurred into the light, the slab will glit- 
ter and gleam like water, as though the road were flooded. You'll 
go whipping toward it, but it will always be ahead of you, that 
bright, flooded place, like a mirage. You'll go past the litde white 
metal squares set on metal rods, with the skull and crossbones on 
them to mark the spot. For this is the counti7 where the age of the 
internal combustion engine has come into its own. Where every 
boy is Barney Oldfield, and the girls wear organdy and batiste and 
eyelet embroidery and no panties on account of the climate and 
have smooth little faces to break yom* heart and when the wind of 
the car's speed lifts up their hair at the temples you see the sweet 
little beads of perspiration nestling there, and they sit low in the 
seat with their little spines crooked and their bent knees high 
toward the dashboard and not too close together for the cool, if you 
could call it that, from the hood ventilator. Where the smell of 
gasoline and burning brake bands and red-eye is sweeter than 
myrrh. Where the eight-cylinder jobs come roaring round the curves 
in the red hills and scatter the gravel like spray, and when they 
ever get down in the flat country and hit the new slab, God have 
mercy on the mariner. 

On up Number 58, and the country breaks.' The flat country and 
the big cotton fields are gone now, and the grove of live oaks way 
off yonder where the big house is, and the whitewashed shacks, all 
just alike, set in a row by the cotton fields with the cotton growing 
up to the doorstep, where the pickaninny sits like a black Billiken 
and sucks its thumb and watches you go by. That's all left behind 
now. It is red hills now, not high, with blackberry bushes along 
the fence rows, and blackjack clumps in the bottoms and now and 
then a place where the second-growth pines stand close together if 
they haven't burned over for sheep grass, and if they have burned 
over, there are the black stubs. The cotton patches cling to the hill- 
sides, and the gullies cut across the cotton patches,. The corn blades 
hang stiff and are streaked with yellow. 

There were pine forests here a long time ago but they are gone. 
The bastards got in here and set up the mills and laid the narrow- 
gauge tracks and knocked together the company commissaries and 
paid a dollar a day and folks swarmed out of the brush for the 
dollar and folks came from God knows where, riding in wagons 
with a chest of drawers and a bedstead canted together in the wagon 
bed, and five kids huddled down together and the old woman 
hunched on the wagon seat with a poke bonnet oh her head and 
snuff on her gums and a young one hanging on her tit. The saws 
sang soprano and the derk in the commissary passed out the black*' 

4 



strap molasses and the sow-belly and wrote in his big book, and 
the Yankee dollar and Confederate dumbness collaborated to, heal 
the wounds of four years of fratricidal strife, and all was merry as 
a marriage bell. Till, all of a sudden, there weren't any more pine 
trees. They stripped the mills. The narrow-gauge fracks got covered 
with grass. Folks tore down the commissaries for kindling wood. 
There wasn’t any more dollar a day. The big boys were gone, with 
diamond rings on their fingers and broadcloth on their backs. But 
a good many of the folks stayed right on, and watched the gullies 
eat deeper into the red clay. And a good handful of those folks and 
their heirs and assigns stayed in Mason City, four thousand of them, 
more or less. 

You come in on Number 58, and pass the cotton gin and the 
power station and the fringe of nigger shacks and bump across the 
railroad track and down a street where there are a lot of little 
houses painted white one time, with the sad valentine lace of 
gingerbread work around the eaves of the veranda, and tin roofs, 
and where the leaves on the trees in the yards hang straight down in 
the heat, and above the mannerly whisper of your eighty-horse- 
power valve-in-head (or whatever it is) drifting at forty, you hear 
the July flies grinding away in the verdure. 

That was tlie way it was the last time I saw Mason City, nearly 
three years ago, back in the summer of 1936. 1 was in the first car, 
the Cadillac, with the Boss and Mr. DufiEy and the Boss’s wife and 
son and Sugar-Boy. In the second car, which lacked our quiet ele- 
gance reminiscent of a cross between a hearse and an ocean liner 
but which still wouldn’t make your cheeks bum with shame in the 
country-club parking lot, there, were some reporters and a photogra- 
pher and Sadie Burke, the Boss’s secretary, to see they got there 
sober enough to do what they were supposed to do. ^ 

Sugar-Boy was driving the Cadillac, and it was a pleasure to 
watch him. Or it would have been if you could detach your imagi- 
nation from the picture of what near a couple of tons of expensive 
mechanism looks like after it’s turned turtle three times at eighty 
and could give your undivided attention to the exhibition of mus- 
cular co-ordination, Satanic humor, and split-second timing whkh 
was Sugar-Boy’s when he whipped around a hay wagon in the face 
of an oncoming gasoline truck and went through the rapidly dimin- 
ishing aperture close enough to give the tru<± driver heart failure 
with one rear fender and wipe the snot ofiE a mule’s nose with the 
other. But the Boss loved it. He always sat up front with Sugar-Boy 
and looked at the speedometer and down the road and grinned to 
Sugar-Boy after they got tlirough between the mule’s nose and dfee 

6 



gasoline truck. And Sugar-Boy’s head would twitch, the way it al- 
ways did when the words were piling up inside of him and couldn’t 
get out, and then he’d start, “The b-b-b-b-b— ” he would manage to 
get out and the saliva would spray from his lips like Flit from a 
Flit gun. “The b-b-b-b-bas-tud— he seen me c-c-c— ’’ and here he'd 
spray the inside of the windshield—“c-c-com-ing.*’ Sugar-Boy couldn’t 
t^k, but he could express himself when he got his foot on the accel- 
erator. He wouldn't win any debating contests in high school, but 
then nobody would ever want to debate with Sugar-Boy. Not any- 
body who knew him and had seen him do tricks with the .38 Specif 
which rode under his left armpit like a tumor. 

No doubt you thought Sugar-Boy was a Negro, from his name. 
But he wasn't. He was Irish, from the wrong side of the tracks. He 
was about five-feet-two, and he was getting bald, though he wasn’t 
more than twenty-seven or -eight years old, and he wore red ties 
and under the red tie and his shirt he wore a little Papist medal on 
a chain, and I always hoped to God it was St. Christopher and that 
St Christopher was on the job. His name was O'Sheean, but they 
called him Sugar-Boy because he ate sugar. Every time he went to a 
restaurant he took all the cube sugar there was in the bowl. He 
went around with his pockets stuffed with sugar cubes, and when he 
took one out to pop into his mouth you saw little pieces of gray lint 
sticking to it, the kind of lint there always is loose in your pocket, 
and shreds of tobacco from cigarettes. He’d pop the cube in over 
the barricade of his twisted black litde teeth, and then you’d see 
the thin little mystic Irish cheeks cave in as he sucked the sugar, 
60 that he looked like an undernourished leprechaun. 

The Boss was sitting in the front seat with Sugar-Boy and watch- 
ing the speedometer, with his kid Tom up there with him. Tom was 
then about eighteen or nineteen— I forgot which— but you would 
have thought he was older. He wasn’t so big, but he was built like 
a man and his head sat on his shoulders like a man's head without 
that gangly, craning look a kid’s head has. He had been a high- 
school football hero and the fall before he had been the flashiest 
thing on the freshman team at State. He got his name in the papers 
because he was really good. He knew he was good. He knew he was 
the nuts, as you could tell from one look at his slick-skinned hand- 
some brown face, with the jawbone working insolently and slow 
over a little piece of chewing gum and his blue eyes under half- 
lowered lids working insolently and slow over you, or the whole 
damned world. But that day when he was up in the front seat with 
Willie Stark, who was the Boss, I couldn’t see his face. I remem- 

6 



bered thinking his head, the shape and the way it was set on his 
shoulders, was just like his old man’s head. 

Mrs. Stark— Lucy Stark, the wife of the Boss— Tiny Duffy, and I 
were in the back seat— Lucy Stark between Tiny and me. It wasn’t 
exactly a gay little gathering. The temperature didn't make for chit- 
chat in the first place. In the second place, I was watching out for 
the hay wagons and gasoline trucks. In the third place, Duffy and 
Lucy Stark never were exactly chummy. So she sat between Duffy 
and me and gave herself to her thoughts. I reckon she had plenty to 
think about. For one thing, she could think about all that had 
happened since she was a girl teaching her first year in the school at 
Mason City and had married a red-faced and red-necked farm boy 
with big slow hands and a shock of dark brown hair coming down 
over his brow (you can look at the wedding picture which has been 
in the papers along with a thousand other pictures of Willie) and a 
look of dog-like devotion and wonder in his eyes when they fiixed 
on her. She would have had a lot to think about as she sat in the 
hurtling Cadillac, for there had been a lot of changes. 

We tooled down the street where the little one-time-white houses 
were, and hit the square. It was Saturday afternoon and the square 
was full of folks. The wagons and the crates were parked solid 
around the patch of grass roots in the middle of which stood the 
courthouse, a red-brick box, well weathered and needing paint, for 
it had been there since before the Civil War, with a little tower with 
a clock face on each side. On the second look you discovered that 
the clock faces weren’t real. They were just painted on, and they 
all said five o’clock and not eight-seventeen the way those big 
painted watches in front of third-string jewelry stores used to. We 
eased into the ruck of folks come in to do their trading, and Sugar- 
Boy leaned on his horn, and his head twitched, and he said, 
‘‘B-b-b-b-as-tuds,” and the spit Hew. 

We pulled up in front of the drugstore, and the kid Tom got out 
and then the Boss, before Sugar-Boy could get around to the door. 
I got out and helped out Lucy Stark, who came up from the depths 
of heat and meditation long enough to say, “Thank you.” She stood 
there on the pavement a second, touching her skirt into place 
around her hips, which had a little more beam on them than no 
doubt had been the case when she won the heart of Willie Stark, 
the farm boy. 

Mr. Duffy debouched massively from the Cadillac, and we all 
entered the drugstore, the Boss holding the door open so Lucy Stark 
could go in and then following her, and the rest of us trailing in. 
There were a good many folks in the store, men in overalls lined 

7 



up along the soda fountain^ and women hanging around the coun- 
ters where the junk and glory was, and kids hanging on skirts with 
one hand and clutching ice-cream cones with the o^er and staring 
out over their own wet noses at the world of 'men from eyes which 
resembled painted china marbles. The Boss just stood modestly 
back of the gang of customers at the soda fountain, with his hat in 
his hand and the damp hair hanging down over his forehead. He 
stood that way a minute maybe, and then one of the girls ladling 
up ice cream happened to see him, and got a look on her face as 
though her garter belt had busted in church, and dropped her ice- 
cream scoop, and headed for the back of the store with her hips 
pumping hell-for-leather under the lettuce-green smock. 

Then a second later a little bald-headed fellow wearing a white 
coat whicti ought to have been in the week's wash came plunging 
through the crowd from the back of the store, waving his hand 
and bumping the customers and yelling, “It's Williel" The fellow 
ran up to the Boss, and the Boss took a couple of steps to meet him, 
and the fellow with the white coat grabbed Willie’s hand as though 
he were drowning. He didn’t shake Willie’s hand, not by ordinary 
standards. He just hung on to it and twitched all over and gargled 
the sacred syllables of Willie, Then, when the attack had passed, 
he turned to the crowd, which was ringing around at a polite dis- 
tance and staring, and announced, “My God, folks, it's Williel” 

The remark was superfluous. One look at the faces rallied around 
and you knew that if any citizen over the age of three didn’t know 
that the strong-set man standing there in the Palm Beach suit was 
Willie Stark, that citizen was a half-wit. In the first place, all he 
would have to do would be to lift his eyes to the big picture high 
up there above the soda fountain, a picture about six times life 
size, which showed the same face, the big eyes, which in the picture 
had the suggestion of a sleepy and inward look (the eyes of the man 
in the Palm Beach suit didn’t have that look now, but I’ve seen it), 
the pouches under the eyes and the jowls beginning to sag off, and 
the meaty lips, which didn’t sag but if you looked close were laid 
one on top of the other like a couple of bricks, and the tousle of 
hair hanging down on the not very high squarish forehead. Under 
the picture was the legend: My study is the heart of the people. In 
quotation marks, and signed, Willie Stark, I had seen that picture 
in a thousand places, pool halls to palaces. 

Somebody back in the crowd yelled, “Hi, Willie!” The Boss lifted 
his right hand and waved in acknowledgment to the unknown ad- 
mirer. Then the Boss spied a fellow at the far end of the soda foim- 
tain, a tall, gaunt-shanked, malarial, leather-faced side of jerked 

8 



venison, wearing jean pants and a brace of mustaches hanging off 
the kind of face you see in photographs of General Forrest’s cavalry- 
men, and the Boss started toward him and put out his hand. Old 
Leather* Face didn't show. Maybe he shuffled one of his broken bro- 
gans on the tiles, and his Adam’s apple jerked one or twice, and the 
eyes were watchful out of that face which resembled the seat of an 
old saddle left out in the" weather, but when the Boss got close, his 
hand came up from the elbow, as though ft didn’t belong to Old 
Leather-Face but was operating on its own, and the Boss took it. 

*‘How you making it, Malaciah?” the Boss asked. 

The Adam’s apple worked a couple of times, and the Boss shook 
the hand which was hanging out there in the air as if it didn't 
belong to anybody, and Old Leather-Face said, “We’s grabblen.” 

“How’s your boy?” the Boss asked. 

“Ain’t doen so good,” Old Leather-Face allowed. 

“Sick?” 

“Naw,” Old Leather-Face allowed, “jail.” 

“My God,” the Boss said, “what they doing round here, putting 
good boys in jail?” 

“He’s a good boy,” Old Leather-Face allowed. “Hit wuz a fahr 
fight, but he had a leetle bad luck.” 

“Huh?” 

“Hit wuz fahr and squahr, but he had a leetle bad luck. He 
stubbed the feller and he died.” 

“Tough tiddy,” the Boss said. Then: “Tried yet?” 

“Not yit.” 

“Tough tiddy,” the Boss said. 

“I ain’t complainen,” Old Leather-Face said. “Hit wuz fit fahr 
and squahr.” 

“Glad to seen you,” the Boss said. “Tell your boy to keep his tail 
over the dashboard.” 

“He ain’t complainen,” Old Leather-Face said. 

The Boss started to turn away to the rest of us who after a hun- 
dred miles in the dazzle were looking at that soda fountain as 
though it were a mirage, but Old Leather-Face said, “Willie.” 

“Huh?” the Boss answered. 

“Yore pitcher,” Old Leather-Face allowed, and jerked his head 
creakily toward the six- times-lif e-size photograph over the soda 
fountain. “Yore pitcher,” he said, “hit don’t do you no credit, 
Willie.” 

“Hell, no,” the Boss said, studying the picture, cocking his head 
to one side and squinting at it, “but I was purely when they took 
it I was like I’d had the cholera morbus. Get in there busting some 

9 



sense into that Legislature, and it leaves a man worse'n the summer 
complaint/' 

“Git in thar and bust 'em, Willie!" somebody yelled from back 
in the crowd, which was thickening out now, for folks were trying 
to get in from the street. 

“I'll bust 'em," Willie said, and turned around to the little man 
with the white coat. “Give us some cokes. Doc," he said, “for God's 
isake." 

It looked as if Doc would have heart failure getting around to 
the other side of the soda fountain. The tail of that white coat was 
flat on the air behind him when he switched the comer and started 
clawing past the couple of girls in the lettuce-green smocks so he 
could do the drawing. He got the first one set up, and passed it to 
the Boss, who handed it to his wife. Then he started drawing the 
next one, and kept on saying, “It's on the house, Willie, it's on the 
house." The Boss took that one himself, and Doc kept on drawing 
them and saying, “It's on the house, Willie, it's on the house." He 
kept on drawing them till he got about five too many. 

By that time folks were packed outside the door solid to the 
middle of the street. Faces were pressed up against the screen door, 
the way you do when you try to see through a screen into a dim 
room. Outside, they kept yelling, “Speech, Willie, speechl" 

’ “My God," the Boss said, in the direction of Doc, who was hang- 
ing on to one of the nickel-plated spouts of the fountain and watch- 
ing every drop of the coke go down the Boss's gullet. “My God," 
the Boss said, “I didn't come here to make a speech. I came here to 
go out and see my pappy." 

“Speech, Willie, speechl" they were yelling out there. 

The Boss set his litde glass on the marble. 

“It's on the house," Doc uttered croakingly with what strength 
was left in him after the rapture. 

“Thanks, Doc," the Boss said. He turned away to head toward 
the door, then looked back. “You better get back in here and sell 
a lot of aspirin. Doc," he said, “to make up for the charity." 

Then he plowed out the door, and the crowd fell back, and we 
tailed after him. 

Mr. Duffy stepped up beside the Boss and asked him was he 
going to make a speech, but the Boss didn't even look at him. He 
kept walking slow and steady right on across the street into the 
crowd, as though the crowd hadn't been there. The red, long faces 
with the eyes in them watching like something wary and wild and 
watchful in a thicket fell back, and there wasn't a sound. The crowd 
creamed back from his passage, and we followed in his wake, all 

10 



of US WHO had been in the Cadillac, and the others who had been in 
the second car. Then the crowd closed behind. 

The Boss kept walking straight ahead, his head bowed a little, 
the way a man bows his head when he is out walking' by himself 
and has something on his mind. His hair fell down over his fore- 
head, for he was carrying his hat in his hand. I knew his hair was 
down over his forehead, for I saw him give his head a quick jerk 
once or twice, the way he always did when he was walking alone 
and it fell down toward his eyes, the kind of motion a horse gives 
just after the bit is in and he's full of beans. 

He walked straight across the street and across the patch of grass 
roots and up the steps of the courthouse. Nobody else followed him 
up the steps. At the top he turned around, slow, to face the crowd. 
He simply looked at them, blinking his big eyes a little, just as 
though he had just stepped out of the open doors and the dark hall 
of the courthouse behind him and was blinking to get his eyes 
adjusted to the light. He stood up there blinking, the hair down on 
his forehead, and the dark sweat patch showing under each arm of 
his Palm Beach coat. Then he gave his head a twitch, and his eyes 
bulged wide suddenly, even if the light was hitting him full in the 
face, and you could see the glitter in them. 

IVs comings I thought. 

You saw the eyes bulge suddenly like that, as though something 
had happened inside him, and there was that glitter. You knew 
something had happened inside him, and thought: It*s coming. It 
was always that way. There was the bulge and the glitter, and there 
was the cold grip way down in the stomach as though some- 
body had laid hold of something in there, in the dark which is you, 
with a cold hand in a cold rubber glove. It was like the second 
when you come home late at night and see the yellow envelope of 
the telegram sticking out from under your door and you lean and 
pick it up, but don’t open it yet, not for a second. While you stand 
there in the hall, with the envelope in your hand, you feel there’s 
an eye on you, a great big eye looking straight at you from miles 
and dark and through walls and houses and through your coat and 
vest and hide and sees you huddled up way inside, in the dark 
which is you, inside yourself, like a clammy, sad little foetus you 
carry around inside yourself. The eye knows what’s in the envelope, 
and it is watching you to see you when you open it and know, too. 
But the clammy, sad little foetus which is you way down in the 
dark which is you too lifts up its sad little face and its eyes are 
blind, and it shivers cold inside you for it doesn’t want to know 
what is in that envelope. It wants to lie in the dark and not know, 

11 



and be warm in its not-knowing. The end of man is knowledge, 
but there is one thing he can’t know. He can’t know whether 
knowledge will save him or kill him. He will be killed, all right, 
but he can’t know whether he is killed because of the knowledge 
which he has got or because of the knowledge which he hasn’t got 
and which if he had it, would save him. There’s the cold in yotir 
stomach, but you open the envelope, you have to open the envelope, 
for the end of man is to know. 

The Boss stood up there quiet, with the bulge and glitter in the 
eyes, and there wasn’t a sound in the crowd. You could hear one 
insane and irrelevant July fly sawing away up in one of the catalpa 
trees in the square. Then that sound stopped, and there wasn’t any- 
thing but the waiting. Then the Boss lounged a step forward, easy 
and soft-footed. 

“I’m not going to make any speech,” the Boss said, and grinned. 
But the eyes were still big and the glitter was in them. “I didn’t 
come here to make any speech. I came up here to go out and see 
my pappy, and see if he’s got anything left in the smokehouse fit to 
eat. I’m gonna say: Pappy, now what about all that smoked sausage 
you wuz bragging about, what about all that ham you wuz brag- 
ging about all last winter, what about—” That’s what he was say- 
ing, but the voice was different, going up in his nose and coming 
out flat with that little break they’ve got in the red hills, saying, 
“Pappy, now what about—” 

But the glitter was still there, and I thought: Maybe it*s coming. 
Maybe it was not too late. You never could tell. Suddenly, it might 
be there, he might say it. 

But he was saying, “—and so I’m not going to make any speech—” 
In his old voice, his o\yn voice. Or was that his voice? Which was 
his true voice, which one of all the voices, you would wonder. 

He was saying, “And I didn’t come here to ask you to give me 
anything, not even a vote. The Good Book says, ‘There are three 
things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, it is 
enough—’ ” and the voice was different now— “ ‘the grave, and the 
barren womb, the earth that is not filled with water, and the fire 
that saith not, it is enough.' But Solomon might have added just 
one little item. He might have just made his little list complete, 
and added, the politician who never stops saying. Gimme.” 

He was lounging back on himself now, and his head was cocked 
a little to one side, and his eyes blinked. Then he grinned, and said, 
“If they had politicians back in those days, they said. Gimme, just 
like all of us politicians do. Gimme, gimme, my name’s Jimmie. 
But I’m not a politician today. I’m taking the day off. I’m not even 

12 



going to ask you to vote for me. To tell the God’s unvarnished and 
unbuckled truth, I don’t have to ask you. Not today. I still got 
quite a little hitch up there in the big house with the white columns 
two stories high on the front porch and peach ice cream for break- 
fast. Not that a passel of those statesmen wouldn't like to throw me 
out. You know—" and he leaned forward a little now, as if to tell 
them a secret— '‘it’s funny how I just can’t make friends with some 
folks. No matter how hard I try. I been just as polite. I said. Please. 
But please didn’t do any good. But it looks like they got to put up 
with me a spell longer. And you have. Before you get shet ®f me. So 
you better just grin and bear it. It’s not any worse’n boils. Now, 
is it?" 

He stopped, and looked all around, right down at them, moving 
his head slow, so that he seemed to look right in a face here and 
stop for just a split second, and then to move on to another one a 
little farther. Then he grinned, and his eyes blinked, and he said, 
“Huh? What’s the matter? Cat got yore tongue?" 

“Boils on the taill" somebody yelled back in the crowd. 

“Dammit," Willie yelled right back, “lie on yore stummick and 
go to sleepi" 

Somebody laughed. 

“And,” yelled Willie, “thank the good Lord who in his everlast- 
ing mercy saw fit to make something with a back side and a front 
side to it out of the skimpy little piece of material provided in 
your easel" 

“You tell ’em, Williel" somebody yelled back in the crowd. Then 
they started to laugh. 

The Boss lifted up his right hand about as high as his head, out 
in front of him, palm down, and waited till they stopped laughing 
and whistling. Then he said: “No, I’m not here to ask you for any- 
thing. A vote or anything else. I reckon I’ll be back later for that. 
If I keep on relishing that peach ice cream for breakfast in the 
big house. But I don’t expect all of you to vote for me. My God, 
if all of you went and voted for Willie, what the hell would you 
find to argue about? There wouldn’t be anything left but the 
weather, and you can’t vote on that. 

“No," he said, and it was another voice, quiet and easy and com- 
ing slow and from a distance, “I’m not here to ask for anything 
today. I’m taking the day off, and I’ve come home. A man goes 
away from his home and it is in him to do it. He lies in strange 
beds in the dark, and the wind is different in the trees. He walks in 
the street and there are the faces in front of his eyes, but there are 
no names for the faces. The voices he hears are not the voices he 

13 



carried away in his ears a long time back when he went away. The 
voices he hears are loud. They are so loud he does not hear for a 
long time at a stretch those voices he carried away in his ears. But 
there comes a minute when it is quiet and he can hear those voices 
he carried away in his ears a long time back. He can make out what 
they say, and they say: Come back. They say: Come back boy. So 
he comes back.” 

His voice just stopped. It didn't trail ofE like a voice coming to 
a stop. One second it was there, going on, word by word, in the 
stillness which filled the square and the crowd in front of the court- 
house and was stiller for the grinding of the July flies in the two 
catalpas rising above the heads of the people who had crowded up 
on the patch of grass roots. The voice was going there, word by 
word, then suddenly it was not there. There was only the sound of 
the July flies, which seems to be inside your head as though it 
were the grind and whir of the springs and cogs which are you and 
which will not stop no matter what you say until they are good 
and ready. 

He stood there a half minute, not saying a word, and not moving. 
He didn't even seem to be noticing the crowd down there. Then he 
seemed, all at once, to discover them, and grinned. ''So he comes 
back,” he said, grinning now. "When he gets half a day off. And he 
says. Hello, folks, how you making it? And that's what I'm saying.” 

That's what he said. He looked down, grinning, and his head 
turned as his eyes went down in the crowd, and seemed to stop on 
a face there, and then go on to stop on another face. 

Then he started walking down the steps, as if he had just come 
out of that dusky-dark hallway beyond the big open doors behind 
him and was walking down the steps by himself, with nobody there 
in front of him and no eyes on him. He came straight down the steps 
toward where his gang was standing, Lucy Stark and the rest of us, 
and nodded at us as though he were simply passing us on the street 
and didn't know us any too well anyway, and kept right on walk- 
ing, straight into the crowd as though tlie crowd weren't there. The 
people fell back a little to make a passage for him, with their eyes 
looking right at him, and the rest of us in his gang followed behind 
him, and the crowd closed up behind us. 

People were clapping now, and yelling. Somebody kept yelling^ 
"Hi, Williel” 

The Boss walked straight across the street, through the crowd, 
and got into the Cadillac and sat down. We got in with him and 
the photographer and the others went back to their car. Sugar-Boy 
started up and nosed out into the street. People didn't get out of 

14 



the way very fast. They couldn’t, they were so jammed in. When 
we nosed out into the crowd, the faces were right there outside the 
car, not more than a foot or so away. The faces looked right in at 
us. But they were out there and we were inside now. The eyes in 
the red, slick-skinned long faces, or the brown, crinkled faces, 
looked in at us. 

Sugar-Boy kept pecking at his horn. The Vords were piling up 
inside him. His lips started to work. I could see his face in the 
driver’s mirror, and the lips were working: “The b-b-b-b-as-tuds,” 
he said, and the spit flew. 

The Boss had sunk in on himself now. 

“The b-b-b-b-as-tuds,’’ Sugar-Boy said, and pecked at his horn, 
but we were easing out of the square now to a side street where 
there weren’t any people. We were doing forty by the time we 
passed the brick schoolhouse on the outskirts of town. Seeing the 
schoolhouse made me remember how I had first met Willie, about 
fourteen years before, back in 1922, when he wasn’t anything but 
the County Treasurer of Mason County and had come down to the 
city to see about the bond issue to build that schoolhouse. Then I 
remembered how I had met him, in the back room of Slade’s pool 
hall, where Slade sold the needle beer, and we were sitting, at one of 
those little marble-topped tables with wirework legs, the kind they 
used to have in drugstores when you were a boy and took your high- 
school sweetie down on Saturday night to get that chocolate banana 
split and rub knees under the table and the wirework would always 
get in the way. 

There were four of us. There was Tiny Duffy, who was almost 
as big back then as he was to get to be. He didn’t need any sign to 
let you know what he was. If the wind was right, you knew he was 
a city-hall slob long before you could see the whites of his eyes. He 
had the belly and he sweated through his shirt just above the belt 
buckle, and he had the face, which was creamed and curded like a 
cow patty in a spring pasture, only it was the color of biscuit dough, 
and in the middle was his grin with the gold teeth. He was Tax 
Assessor, and he wore a flat hard straw hat on the back of his head. 
There was a striped band on the hat. 

Then there was Alex Michel, who was a country boy from up in 
Mason County but who was learning fast. He had learned fast 
enough to get to be a deputy sheriff. But he wasn’t that long. He 
wasn’t anything, for he got cut in the gut by a coke-frisky piano 
player in a cribhouse where he had gone to take out a little in trade 
on his protection account. Alex was, as I have said, from up in 
Mason County. 



Duffy and I had been in the back room of Slade’s place waiting 
for Alex, with whom I had the hope of transacting a little business. 
I was a newspaperman and Alex knew something I wanted to 
know. Duffy had called him in, for Duffy was a friend of mine. At 
least, he knew that I worked for the Chronicle, which at that time 
was supporting the Joe Harrison outfit. Joe Harrison was Governor 
then. And Duffy was one of Joe Harrison’s boys. 

So I was sitting in the back room of Slade's place, one hot morn- 
ing in June or July, back in 1922, waiting for Alex Michel to turn 
up and listening to the silence in the back room of Slade’s place. 
A funeral parlor at midnight is ear-splitting compared to the effect 
you get in the middle of the morning in the back room of a place 
like Slade’s if you are the first man there. You sit there and think 
how cozy it was last m*ght, with the effluvium of brotherly bodies 
and the haw-haw of camaraderie, and you look at the floor where 
now there are little parallel trails of damp sawdust the old broom 
left this morning when the unenthusiastic old Negro man cleaned 
up, and the general impression is that you are alone with the Alone 
and it is His move. So I sat there in the silence (Duffy was never 
talkative in the morning before he had worried down two or three 
drinks), and listened to my tissues break down and the beads of 
perspiration explode delicately out of the ducts embedded in the 
ample flesh of my companion. 

Alex came in with a fellow with him, and I knew my little con- 
versation was not promising. My mission was of some delicacy, not 
fit for tlie ear of a stranger. I figured that might be the reason Alex 
had his friend in tow. Maybe it was, for Alex was cagey in an ama- 
teurish sort of way. In any case, he had the Boss with him. 

Only it was not the Boss, Not to the crude eye of the homme 
sensuel. Metaphysically it was the Boss, but how was I to know? 
Fate comes walking through the door, and it is five feet eleven inches 
tall and heavyish in the chest and shortish in the leg and is wearing 
a seven-fifty seersucker suit which is too long in the pants so the 
cuffs crumple down over the high black shoes, which could do with 
a polishing, and a stiff high collar like a Sunday-school superin- 
tendent and a blue-striped tie which you know his wife gave him 
last Christmas and which he has kept in tissue paper with the 
holly card (“Merry Xmas to my Darling Willie from your Loving 
Wife’’) until he got ready to go up to the city, and a gray felt hat 
with the sweat stains showing through the band. It comes in just 
like that, and how are you to know? It comes in, trailing behind 
Alex Michel, who is, or was before the piano player got him, six- 
feet-two of beautifully articulated bone and gristle with a hard, 

16 



bony, baked-looking face and two little quick brown eyes which 
don't belong above that classic torso and in that face and which 
keep fidgeting around like a brace of Mexican jumping beans. So 
Fate trails modestly along behind Alex Michel, who approaches the 
table with an air of command which would deceive no one. 

Alex shook my hand and said, “Hi, pal," and slapped me on the 
shoulder with a palm that was tough enough to crack a black wal- 
nut, and paid proper obeisance to Mr. Duffy, who extended a hand 
without rising; and then, as a sort of afterdiought, Alex jerked a 
thumb toward his trailing companion and said, "This is Willie 
Stark, gents. From up home at Mason City. Me and Willie was m 
school together. Yeah, and Willie, he was a bookworm, he was 
teacher’s pet. Wuzn’t you, Willie?" And Alex whickered like a stal- 
lion in full appreciation of his own delicious humor and nudged 
the teacher’s pet in the ribs. Then, controlling himself, he added, 
"And he’s still teacher’s pet, ain’t you, Willie, ain’t you?" 

And he turned to Duffy and me, and explained, before mirth 
again took him and Slade’s back room again resounded with the 
cheerful note of the breeding paddock, "Willie—Willie—he married 
a school- teacher 1" 

That idea seemed monstrously funny to Alex. Meanwhile, Willie, 
unable to complete the amenities of the situation, bowed to the 
blast and stood there with the old gray felt hat in his hand, with 
the sweat showing around the band outside where it had soaked 
through. Willie’s large face, above the stiff country collar, didn’t 
show a thing. 

"Yeah—yeah—he married a school-teacherl" Alex reaffirmed with 
undiminished relish. 

"Well," said Mr. Duffy, whose experience and tact were equal to 
any situation, "they tells me school-teachers are made with it in the 
same place." Mr. Duffy lifted his lip to expose the gold, but made 
no sound, for, Mr. Duffy being a man of the world and serene in 
confidence, his style was to put forth his sally and let it make its 
way on its intrinsic worth and to leave the applause to the public. 

Alex provided the applause in good measure. I contributed only 
a grin which felt sickly on my face, and Willie was a blank. 

"Gawd!" Alex managed, when breath had returned to him, 
"Gawd, Mr. Duffy, you are a card! You shore-Gawd are," And again 
he vigorously nudged the teacher’s pet in the ribs to spur his lag- 
gard humor. When he got no result, he nudged again, and de- 
manded flatly of his ward: "Now ain’t Mr Duffy a card?" 

"Yes," Willie replied, looking at Mr. Duffy innocently, judicially, 
dispassionately. "Yes," he said, "Mr. Duffy is a card." And as the 

17 



admission was made, albeit belatedly and with some ambiguity of 
inflection, the slight cloud which had gathered upon Mr, Duffy’s 
brow was dissipated with no trace of rancor left behind. 

vViilie took advantage of the momentary lull to wind up the rit- 
ual ot introduction which Alex’s high spirits had interrupted. He 
transferred his old gray hat to his left hand and took the two steps 
necessary to bring him to the table, and gravely extended his hand 
to me. So much water had flowed beneath the bridges since Alex 
had jerked his thumb toward the stranger from the country and 
said, *‘This is Willie Stark,” that I had almost forgotten I hadn’t 
known Willie ail my life. So I didn't catch on right away that he 
was out to shake hands. I must have looked at his outstretched hand 
inquiringly and tlien given him a blank look, and he just showed 
me his dead pan— it was just another pan, at first glance anyway— 
and kept on holding his hand out. Then I came to, and not to be 
outdone in courtesy of the old school, I hitched my chair back from 
the table and almost stood all the way up, and groped for his hand. 
It was a pretty good-sized hand. When you first took it you figured 
it was on the soft side, and the palm a little too moist— which is 
something, however, you don’t hold against a man in certain lati- 
tudes— then you discovered it had a solid substructure. It was like 
the hand of a farm boy who has not too recently given up the plow 
for a job in the crossroads store. Willie’s hand gave mine three dec- 
orous pump-handle motions, and he said, ”Glad to meetcha, Mr. 
Burden,” like something he had memorized, and then, I could have 
sworn, he gave me a wink. Then looking into that dead pan, I 
wasn’t sure. About twelve years later, at a time when the problem of 
Willie’s personality more imperiously occupied my rare hours of 
speculation, I asked him, “Boss, do you remember the time we first 
got acquainted in the back room of Slade’s joint?” 

He said he did, which wasn’t remarkable, for he was like the 
circus elephant, he never forgot anything, the fellow who gave him 
the peanut or the fellow who put snuff in his trunk. 

“You remember when we shook hands?” I asked him. 

“Yeah,” he said. 

“Well, Boss,” I demanded, "did you or didn’t you wink at me?” 

“Boy—” he said and toyed with his glass of Scotch and soda and 
dug the heel of one of his unpolished, thirty-dollar, chastely de- 
signed bench-made shoes into the best bed-spread the St. Regis 
Hotel could afford. “Boy,” he said, and smiled at me paternally 
over his glass, “that is a mystery.” 

“Don’t you remember?” I said. 

“Sure,” he said, “I remember.” 

18 



‘'Well?'' I demanded. 

"Suppose I just had something in my eye?'* he said. 

"Well, damn it, you just had something in your eye then.” 

"Suppose I didn't have anything in my eye?" 

"Then maybe you winked because you figured you and me had 
some views in common about the tone of the gathering." 

"Maybe," he said. "It ain't any secret that my old schoolmate 
Alex was a heel. And it ain't any secret that Tiny Duffy is as 
sebaceous a fat-ass as ever made the spring groan in a swivel chair.” 

"He is an s.o.b.,” I affirmed. 

"He is,” the Boss agreed cheerfully, "but he is a useful citizen. 
If you know what to do with him." 

"Yeah," 1 said, "and I suppose you think you know what to do 
with him. You made him Lieutenant Governor.” (For that was in 
the Boss's last term when Tiny was his understudy.) 

"Sure," the Boss nodded, "somebody's got to be Lieutenant Gov- 
ernor.** 

"Yeah," I said, "Tiny Duffy.” 

"Sure," he said, "Tiny Duffy. The beauty about Tiny is that 
nobody can trust him and you know it. You get somebody some- 
body can trust maybe, and you got to sit up nights worrying 
whether you are the somebody. You get Tiny, and you can get a 
night's sleep. All you got to do is keep the albumen scared out of 
his urine.’* 

"Boss, did you wink at me that time back at Slade's?" 

"Boy," he said, "if I was to tell you, then you wouldn't have any- 
thing to think about.” 

So I never did know. 

But I did see Willie shake hands that morning with Tiny Duffy 
and fail to wink at him. He just stood there in front of Mr. Duff}', 
and when the great man, not rising, finally extended his hand with 
the reserved air of the Pope offering his toe to the kiss of a Camp- 
bellite, Willie took it and gave it the three pumps which seemed to 
be regulation up in Mason City. 

Alex sat down at the table, and Willie just stood there, as though 
waiting to be invited, till Alex kicked' the fourth chair over a few 
inches with his foot and said, "Git off yore dogs, Willie.” 

Willie sat down and laid his gray felt hat on the marble top in 
front of him. The edges of the brim crinkled and waved up all 
around off the marble like a piecrust before grandma trims it. 
Willie just sat there behind his hat and his blue-striped Christmas 
tie and waited, with his hands laid in his lap. 

Slade came in from the front, and said, "Beer?** 

19 



"All round," Mr. Duffy ordered. 

"Not for me, thank you kindly," Willie said. 

"All round," Mr. Duffy ordered again, with a wave of the hand 
that had the diamond ring. 

"Not for me, thank you kindly," Willie said. 

Mr, Duffy, with some surprise and no trace of pleasure, turned 
his gaze upon Willie, who seemed unaware of the significance of 
the event, sitting upright in his little chair behind the hat and the 
tie. Then Mr. Duffy looked up at Slade, and jerking his head 
toward Willie, said, "Aw, give him some beer." 

"No, thanks," Willie said, with no more emotion than you would 
put into the multiplication table. 

"Too strong for you?" Mr. Duffy demanded. 

"No," Willie replied, "but no thank you." 

"Maybe the school-teacher don't let him drink nuthen," Alex 
offered, 

"Lucy don't favor drinking," Willie said quietly. "For a fact." 

"What she don’t know don’t hurt her," Mr. Duffy said. 

"Git him some beer," Alex said to Slade. 

"All round," Mr. Duffy repeated, with the air of closing an issue. 

Slade looked at Alex and he looked at Mr. Duffy and he looked 
at Willie. He flicked his towel halfheartedly in the direction of a 
cruising fly, and said: "I sells beer to them as wants it. I ain’t mak- 
ing nobody drink it." 

Perhaps that was the moment when Slade made his fortune. 
How life is strange and changeful, and the crystal is in the steel at 
the point of fracture, and the toad bears a jewel in its forehead, 
and the meaning of moments passes like the breeze that scarcely 
ruffles the leaf of the willow. 

Well, anyway, when Repeal came and mailmen had to use Mack 
trucks to haul the applications for licenses over to the City Hall, 
Slade got a license. He got a license immediately, and he got a sw^ell 
location, and he got the jack to put in leather chairs kind to the 
femurs, and a circular bar; and Slade, who never had a dime in his 
life after he paid rent and protection, now stands in the shadows 
under the murals of undressed dames in the midst of the glitter of 
chromium and tinted mirrors, wearing a double-breasted blue suit, 
with what’s left of his hair plastered over his skull, and keeps one 
eye on the black boys in white jackets who tote the poison and the 
other on the blonde at the cash register who knows that her duties 
are not concluded when the lights are turned off at 2:00 A.M., and 
the strains of a three-piece string ensemble soothe the narves of the 
customers. 


20 



How did Slade get the license so quickly? How did he get the 
lease when half the big boys in the business were after that corner? 
How did he get the jack for the leather chairs and the string en- 
semble? Slade never confided in me, but I figure Slade got his re- 
ward for being an honest man. 

Anyway, Slade's statement of principle about the beer question 
closed the subject that morning. Tiny Duffy lifted a face to Slade 
with the expression worn by the steer when you give it the hammer; 
then, as sensation returned, he took refuge in his dignity. Alex per- 
mitted himself the last luxury of irony. Says Alex: “Well, maybe 
you got some orange pop for him." And when the whicker of his 
mirth had died away, Slade said: “I reckin I have. If he wants it.” 

“Yes," Willie said, “I think I’ll take some orange pop.” 

The beer came, and the bottle of pop. The bottle of pop had two 
straws in it. Willie lifted his two hands out of his lap where they 
had decorously lain during the previous conversation, and took the 
bottle between them. He tilted the bottle slightly toward him, not 
lifting it from the table, and affixed his lips to the straws. His lips 
were a little bit meaty, but they weren't loose. Not exactly. Maybe 
at first glance you might think so. You might think he had a mouth 
like a boy, not quite shaped up, and that was the way he looked 
that minute, all right, leaning over the bottle and the straws stuck 
in his lips, which were just puckered up. But if you stuck around 
long enough, you’d see something a little different. You would see 
that they were hung together, all right, even if they were meaty. His 
face was a little bit meaty, too, but thin-skinned, and had freckles. 
His eyes were big, big and brown, and he’d look right at you, out 
of the middle of that thin-skinned and freckled and almost pudgy 
face (at first you would think it was pudgy, then you would 
change your mind), and the dark brown, thick hair was tousled 
and crinkled down over his forehead, which wasn't very high in the 
first place, and the hair was a little moist. There was little Willie. 
There was Cousin Willie from the country, from up at Mason City, 
with his Christmas tie, and maybe you would take him out to the 
park and show him the swans. 

Alex leaned toward Duffy, and said confidingly, “Willie— he's in 
poly-ticks." 

Duffy’s features exhibited the slightest twitch of interest, but the 
twitch was dissipated into the vast oleaginous blankness which was 
the face of Duffy in repose. He did not even look at Willie. 

“Yeah,” Alex continued, leaning closer and nodding sideways at 
Willie, “yeah, in poly-ticks. Up in Mason City.” 

Mr. Duffy’s head did a massive quarter-revolution in the direc* 

21 



tion of Willie and the pale-blue eyes focused upon him horn the 
j^i-eat distance. Not that the mention of Mason City was calculated 
to impress Mr. Duffy, but the fact that Willie could be in politics 
anywhere, even in Mason City, where, no doubt, the hogs scratched 
themselves against the underpinnings of the post office, raised cer- 
tain problems which merited passing attention. So Mr. Duffy gave 
his attention to Willie, and solved the problem. He solved it by 
deciding that there wasn't any problem. Willie was not in poli- 
tics. Not in Mason City or anywhere else. Alex Michel was a liar 
and the truth was not in him. You could look at Willie and see 
that he never had been and never would be in politics. Duffy 
could look at Willie and deduce the fact that Willie was not in 
politics. So he said, “Yeah," with heavy irony, and incredulity was 
obvious upon his face. 

Not that I much blame Duffy. Duffy was face to face with the 
margin of mystery where all our calculations collapse, where the 
stream of time dwindles into the sands of eternity, where the for- 
mula fails in the test tube, where chaos and old night hold sway 
and we hear the laughter in tlie ether dream. But he didn't know 
he was, and so he said, “Yeah." 

“Yeah," Alex echoed, without irony, and added, “Up in Mason 
City. Willie is County Treasurer. Ain't you, Willie?" 

“Yes," Willie said, “County Treasurer." 

“My Gk)d," Duffy breathed, with the air of a man who discovers 
that he has built upon sands and dwelt among mock shows. 

“Yeah," Alex iterated, “and Willie is down here on business for 
Mason County, ain't you, Willie?" 

Willie nodded. 

“About a bond issue they got up there," Alex continued. “They 
gonna build a schoolhouse and it's a bond issue." 

Duffy's lips worked, and you could catch the discreet glimmer of 
the gold in the bridgework, but no word came forth. The moment 
was too full for sound or foam. 

But it was true. Willie was the County Treasurer and he was* 
that day long ago, in the city on business about the bond issue for 
the schoolhouse. And the bonds were issued and the schoolhouse 
built, and more than a dozen years later the big black Cadillac with 
the Boss whipped past the schoolhouse, and then Sugar-Boy really 
put his foot down on the gas and we headed out, still on the almost 
new slab of Number 58. 

We had done about a mile, and not a word spoken, when thr 
Boss turned around from the front seat and looked at me and said* 

22 



’'Jack, make a note to find out something about Malaciah's boy and 
fhp Vdlmg.’' 

“What’s his name?” I asked. 

“Hell, I don’t know, but he’s a good boy.” 

“Malaciah’s name, I mean,” I said. 

“Malaciah Wynn,” the Boss said. 

I had my notebook out now and wrote it down, and wrote down,. 
stabbing. 

“Find out when the trial is set and get a lawyer down. A good 
one, and I mean a good one that’ll know how to handle it and let 
him know he God-damn well better handle it, but don’t get a guy 
that wants his name in lights.” 

“Albert Evans,” I said, “he ought to do.” 

“Uses hair oil,” the Boss said. “Uses hair oil and slicks it back 
till the top of his head looks like the black ball on a pool table. Get 
somebody looks like he didn’t sing with a dance band. You losing 
your mind?” 

“All right,” I said, and wrote in my notebook, Abe Lincoln type^ 
I didn’t have to remind myself about that. I just wrote because I 
had got in the habit. You can build up an awful lot of habits ia 
six years, and you can fill an awful lot of little black books in that 
time and put them in a safety-deposit box when they get full be- 
cause they aren’t something to leave around and because they would 
be worth their weight in gold to some parties to get their hands on. 
Not that they ever got their hands on them, I never needed moneys 
that bad. But I had the habit of saving them. A man's got to carry 
something besides a corroded liver with him out of that dark back- 
ward and abysm of time, and it might as well be the little black 
books. The little black books lie up there in the safety-deposit box, 
and there are your works of days and hands all cozy in the dark in 
the little box and the world's great axis grinds. 

“You pick him,” the Boss said, “but keep out of sight. Put one 
of your pais on him, and pick your pal.” 

“I get you,” I replied, for I got him. 

The Boss was just about to turn around and divide his attention 
between the highway and Sugar-Boy’s speedometer, when Duffy 
cleared his throat and said, “Boss.” 

“Yeah?” the Boss said. 

“You know who it was got cut?” 

“No,” the Boss said, getting ready again to turn around, “and I 
don’t care if it was the sainted uncut maiden aunt of the Apostle 
Paul.” 

Mr. DufEy cleared his throat, the way he always did in late years. 

2S 



when he was congested with phlegm and an idea. happened to 
notice in the paper,” he began. “I happened to notice back when 
it happened, and the feller got cut was the son of a doctor up in 
this neighborhood. I don't recall what his name was but he was 
a doctor. The paper said so. Now—” Mr. Duffy was going right on 
talking to the back of the Boss's head. The Boss hadn't paid any 
mind, it seemed. ”Now, it would appear to me,” Mr. Duffy said, 
and cleared his pipes again, “it would appear to me maybe that 
doctor might be pretty big around here. You know how a doctor is 
in the country. They think he is somebody. And maybe it got out 
how you was mixed up with trying to get the feller Wynn’s boy 
off, and it wouldn’t do you any good. You know, politics,” he ex- 
plained, “you know how politics is. Now it—” 

The Boss whipped his head around to look at Mr. Duffy so fast 
all of a sudden there wasn’t anything but a blur. It was as though 
his big brown pop eyes were looking out the back of his head 
through the hair, everything blurred up together. That is slightly 
hyperbolic, but you get what I mean. The Boss was like that. He 
gave you the impression of being a slow and deliberate man to look 
at him, and he had a way of sitting loose as though he had sunk 
inside himself and was going down for the third time and his eyes 
would blink like an owl’s in a cage. Then all of a sudden he would 
make a move. It might just be to reach out and grab a fly out of 
the air that was bothering him, that trick I saw an old broken- 
down pug do once who hung around a saloon. He would make bets 
he could catch a fly out of the air with his fingers, and he could. 
The Boss could do that. Or he would whip his head at you when 
you said something he hadn’t seemed to be listening to. He whipped 
his head round now to Duffy and fixed his gaze on him for an 
instant before he said quite simply and expressively, “Jesus.” Then 
he said, “Tiny, you don’t know a God-damned thing. In the firrt 
place, I’ve known Malaciah Wynn all my life, and his boy is a 
good boy and I don’t care who he cut. In the second place, it was a 
fair fight and he had bad luck and when it’s like that by the time 
the trial comes up folks are always feeling for the feller who’s being 
tried for murder when he just had bad luck because the fellow died. 
In the third place, if you had picked the wax out of your ears you’d 
heard me tell Jack to prime the lawyer through a pal and to get 
one didn’t want his name in lights. As far as that lawyer knows or 
anybody else knows, he's been sent by the Pope. And all he wants 
to know anyway is whether the foliage he gets out of it has those 
little silk threads in it. Is all that clear or do you want me to draw a 
picture?” 


24 



**1 get you/* Mr. Duffy said, and wet his lips. 

But the Boss wasn’t listening now. He had turned back to the 
highway and the speedometer and had said to Sugar-Boy, '‘God’s 
sake, you think we want to admire the landscape? We’re late now/* 

Then you felt Sugar-Boy take up that last extra stitch. 

But not for long. In about half a mile, we hit the turn-oE 
Sugar-Boy turned off on the gravel and we sprayed along with the 
rocks crunching and popping up against the underside of the fen- 
der like grease in a skillet. We left a tail of dust for the other car 
to ride into. 

Then we saw the house. 

It was set on a little rise, a biggish box of a house, twQ-story, rec- 
tangular, gray, and unpainted, with a tin roof, unpainted too and 
giving off blazes under the sun for it was new and the rust hadn’t 
bitten down into it yet, and a big chimney at each end. We pulled 
up to the gate. The house was set up close to the road, with a good 
hog-wire fence around the not very big yard, and with some crepe 
myrtles in bloom the color of raspberry ice cream and looking cool 
in the heat in the corner of the yard and one live oak, nothing to 
brag on and dying on one side, in front of the house, and a couple 
of magnolias off to one side with rusty-looking tinny leaves. There 
wasn’t much grass in the yard, and a half dozen hens wallowed and 
fluffed and cuck-cucked in the dust under the magnolia trees. A big 
white hairy dog like a collie or a shepherd was lying on the front 
porch, a little one-story front porch that looked stuck on the box of 
the house, like an afterthought. 

It looked like those farmhouses you ride by in the country in the 
middle of the afternoon, with the chickens under the trees and the 
dog asleep, and you know the only person in the house is the 
woman who has finished washing up the dishes and has sw(‘pt the 
kitchen and has gone upstairs to lie down for half an hour and has 
pulled off her dress and kicked off her shoes and is lying there on 
her back on the bed in the shadowy room with her eyes closed and 
a strand of her hair still matted down on her forehead with the 
perspiration. She listens to the flies cruising around the room, then 
she listens to your motor getting big out on the road, then it shrinks 
off into the distance and she listens to the flies. That was the kind 
of house it was. 

One time I had wondered why the* Boss never had the house 
painted after he gotTiis front feet in the trough and a dollar wasn’t 
the reason you got up in the morning any more. Then I figured 
the Boss knew best. Suppose he had painted it up, then the next 
fellow down the road would be saying to the next one, “Seen Old 

25 



Man Stark got his house painted? Yeah, putten on airs. Hit looks 
lak hit wuz good enuff fer him to live in all his life lak hit wuz, and 
his boy gits up thar in the cappy-tell, and hit ain’t good enuff no 
more. Fust thing you know and Old Man Starkll be going to the 
privy in tlie house and maken ’em cook cabbige out behind the 
barn.” (As a matter of fact, Old Man Stark was going to the privy 
in the house, for the Boss had put in running water and a bath- 
room. Water pumped by a little automatic electric pump. But you 
can’t see a commode from the road when you pass by. It doesn’t hit 
you in the eye or run out and bite you in the ^eg. And what the 
voter doesn’t know doesn't prey on his mind.) 

Anyway, if he had painted the house it wouldn’t have made half 
as good a picture as it was going to make that day with Willie and 
his Old Man on the front steps, with Lucy Stark and the boy and 
the old white dog. 

The old man was on the front steps now. By the time we got 
through the front gate, which had a couple of old plow points hung 
on a wire to pull it shut and clank to announce the visitor, and had 
started up the path, the old man had come out the door. He 
stopped on the steps and waited, a not very tall old man, and thin, 
wearing blue jean pants and a blue shirt washed so much that it 
had a powdery pastel shade to it and a black bow tie, the kind that 
comes ready-tied on an elastic band. We got up close and could see 
his face, brown and tooled-looking, with the skin and flesh thin on 
the bone and hanging down from the bone to give that patient look 
old men’s faces have, and his gray hair plastered down on his nar- 
row, egg-tliin old skull— the hair still wet as though he had given 
it a dab with the wet brush when he heard the car, just to be look- 
ing right at the last minute— and slow blue eyes in the middle of 
the brown folded skin. The blue of the eyes was pale and washed 
out like the blue of the shirt. He didn’t have any whiskers or mus- 
tache, and you could see that he had shaved pretty recently, tor 
there were two or three little nicks, with the little crusts of blood 
on them, where the razor had got tangled in the folds of the brown, 
dry skin. 

He stood on the steps, and for any sign he gave we might as well 
have been back in the city. 

Then the Boss went up to him, and put out his hand, and said, 
“Hello, Pappy. How you making it?” ^ 

“Gitten along,” the old man said, and shook hands, or rather 
putting out his hand with that same motion from the elbow which 
Old Leather-Face had had in the drugstore back in Mason City, he 
let the Boss shake it. 


26 



Lucy Stark went up to him, not saying anything, and kissed him 
on his left cheek. He didn’t say anything either when she did it 
He just reached his right arm a little around her shoulder, not quite 
a hug, just putting his arm there, and you could see his knobby, 
crooked, brown old hand, which looked too big for the wristbone, 
and the hand gave her shoulder two or three little tired, apologetic 
pats. Then the hand dropped away 'and hung at his side beside the 
blue jean pants leg, and Lucy Stark stepped back. Then he sajd, 
not very loud, '‘Howdy, Lucy.” 

“Howdy, Papa,” she said, and the hand hanging beside the jean 
pants jerked as though it were getting ready to reach out and pat 
her again, but it didn’t. 

I suppose it didn’t have to, anyway. Not to tell Lucy Stark what 
Lucy Stark already knew, and had known without words ever since 
the days when she had married Willie Stark and had come out here 
and had sat by the fire at night with the old man, whose wife had 
been dead a long time then and who hadn’t had a woman in the 
house for a long time. That they had something in common, Old 
Man Stark and Lucy Stark, who had loved and married Willie 
Stark, the Willie Stark who at that moment when she and the old 
man sat wordlessly before the fire was upstairs in his room with his 
face bent down over a law book, his face puzzled and earnest and 
the tousle of hair hanging, and who was not with them by tire fire, 
but was up there in that room, but not even in that room, either, 
but in a room, a world, inside himself where something was swell- 
ing and growing painfully and dully and imperceptibly like a great 
potato in a dark, damp cellar. What they had in common was a 
world of wordless silence by the fire, a world which could absorb 
effortlessly and perfectly the movements of their day and their occu- 
pations, and of all the days they had lived, and of the days that 
were to come for them to move about in and do the things which 
were the life for which they were made. So they sat there in their 
common knowledge, while the chunk on the hearth stewed and 
hissed and crumbled, and were together in the down beat and pause 
of the rhythm of their lives. That was what they had in common 
now, and nothing could take that away. But they had something 
else in common: they had in common the knowledge that they did 
not have what they had. They did not have Willie Stark, who was 
what they had. 

The Boss was introducing Mr. Duffy, who was delighted to meet 
Mr. Stark, yes, sir, and introducing the gang who had just come up 
in the second car. Then the Boss jerked a thumb at me, and said to 
his father, “You recollect Jack Burden, don’t you?” 

27 



‘*I recollect/* the old man said, and we shook hands. 

We all went into the parlor, and sat around on a few pieces of 
%tuffed horsehair furniture, which had an acid, mummy smell in 
yoxir parched-out nostrils, or on straight split-bottom chairs, which 
Old Man Stark and the Boss had fetched in from the kitchen, and 
the motes of dust swam in the rays of light striking in under the 
shades on the western windows of the room through the one-time 
white but now yellowish lace curtains, which looped uncertainly 
from their rods like fish nets hung up to wait for mending. The 
gang of us sat around, and moved our thighs on the horsehair or 
on the split-bottom and stared down at the unpainted boards of the 
floor or at the design on the linoleum mat in the middle of the 
floor as though we were attending a funeral and owed the dead man 
some money. The linoleum mat was newish, and the colors were 
still bright— reds and tans and blues slick and varnished-looking— 
a kind of glib, impertinent, geometrical island floating there in the 
midst of the cornerless shadows and the acid mummy smell and tlie 
slow swell of Time which had fed into this room, day by day since 
long back, as into a landlocked sea where the fish were dead and 
the taste was brackish on your tongue. You had the feeling that if 
the Boss and Mr. Duffy and Sadie Burke and the photographer and 
die reporters and you and the rest got cuddled up together on that 
linoleum mat it would lift off the floor by magic and scoop you all 
up together and make a lazy preliminary circuit of the room and 
whisk right out the door or out the roof like the floating island of 
Gulliver or the carpet in the Arabian Nights and carry you off 
where you and it belonged and leave Old Man Stark sitting there 
as though nothing had happened, very clean and razor-nicked, with 
his gray hair plastered down damp, sitting there by the table where 
the big Bible and the lamp and the plush-bound album were urn 
der the blank, devouring gaze of the whiskered face in the big 
crayon portrait above the mantel shelf. 

Then the nigger woman brought in a pitcher of water on a tray, 
with three glasses, slipping her feet in old tennis shoes dryly along 
the boards. Lucy Stark took one glass and Sadie Burke another, and 
the rest of us just passed around the third glass. 

Then the photographer took a secret look at his watch, and 
cleared his throat, and said, ‘'Governor— * 

“Yeah?** the Boss answered. 

“I just reckoned— if you and Mrs. Stark is rested and all— * he 
made a sitting-down bow in the direction of Lucy Stark, a bow from 
the waist that was quite a feat and gave the impression he had had 

28 



a couple too many for the heat and was passing out in the chair— 
"if you all— ’ 

The Boss stood up. "All right/* he said, grinning. "I just reckon 
I get you." Then he looked at his wife questioningly. 

Lucy Stark stood up, too. 

"All set. Pappy/* the Boss said to the old man, and the old man 
stood up, too. 

The Boss led the way out to the front porch. We all tailed him 
out like a procession. The photographer went to the second car 
and unpacked a tripod and the rest of his plunder and got it rigged 
up facing the steps. The Boss was standing on the steps, blinking 
and grinning, as though he were half asleep and knew what kind 
of a dream he was going to have. 

"We’ll just take you first. Governor," the photographer said, and 
the rest of us eased off the porch and out of range. 

The photographer hid his head under the black cloth, then he 
popped out again all agog with an idea. "The dog," he said, "get 
the dog in there with you. Governor. You be petting the dog or 
something. Right there on the steps. It’ll be swell. It will be the 
nuts. You be petting that dog, he’s pawing up on you like he was 
glad to see you when you come home. See? It will be the nuts." 

"Sure, the nuts," the Boss said. 

Then he turned toward the old white dog, which hadn’t moved 
a muscle since the Cadillac pulled up at the gate and was lying over 
to one side of the porch like a worn-out fur rug. "Here, Buck," the 
Boss said, and snapped his fingers. 

But the dog didn’t show a thing, 

"Here, Buck," the Boss called. 

Tom Stark prodded the dog" with his toe for a little encourage- 
ment, but he might just as well have been prodding a bolster. 

"Buck is gitten on," Old Man Stark said. "He ain’t right spry any 
more." Then the old man went to the steps and stooped down 
with a motion which made you expect to hear the sound of old 
rusty hinges on a barn door. "Hi, Buck, hi, Buck," the old man 
wheedled without optimism. He gave up, and lifted his gaze to the 
Boss, "If he was hongry now," he said, and shook his head. "If he 
was hongry we could guile him. But he ain’t hongry. His teeth gone 
bad." 

The Boss looked at me, and I knew what I was paid to do. 

"Jack," the Boss said, "get the hairy bastard up here and make 
him look like he was glad to see me." 

I was supposed to do a lot of different things, and one of them 
was to lift up fifteen-year-old, hundred-and-thirty-five-pound hairy 

29 



white dogs on summer afternoons and paint an expression oi uuuh 
terabie bliss upon their faithful features as they gaze deep, deep 
into the Bosses eyes. I got hold of Buck's forelegs, as though I were 
girding myself to shove a wheelbarrow, and heaved. It didn’t work. 
I got his front end up for a second, but just as 1 got him up, he 
breathed out and I breathed in. One gust of Buck was enough. It 
was like a gust from a buzzard’s nest. I was paralyzed. Buck hit the 
porch boards and lay there like the old polar-bear rug he resembled. 

Then Tom Stark and one of the reporters shoved on the tail end 
and I heaved on the front end and held my breath and we got 
Buck the seven feet to the Boss. The Boss braced himself, and v/e 
heaved up the front end, and the Boss got a gust of Buck. 

That gust was enough. 

"God’s sake. Pappy,” the Boss demanded as soon as he had mas- 
tered his spasm, "what you been feeding this dog?” 

"He ain’t got any appetite,” Old Man Stark said. 

"He ain’t got any appetite for violets,” the Boss said, and spat 
on the ground. 

"The reason he fell,” the photographer observed, "was because 
his hind legs gave down. Once we get him propped we got to work 
fast.” 

"We?” the Boss said. "Wei What the hell you mean we. You 
come kiss him. One whiff would curdle milk and strip a pine tree. 
We, hell!” 

The Boss took a deep breath, and we heaved again. It didn’t 
work. Buck didn’t have any starch in him. We tried six or seven 
times, but it was no sale. Finally the Boss had to sit down on the 
steps, and we dragged Buck up and laid the faithful head on the 
Boss’s knee. The Boss put his hand on Buck’s head and looked at 
the photographer’s birdie. The photographer shot it, and said, "It 
is the nuts,” and the Boss said, "Yeah, the nuts.” 

The Boss sat there a few seconds with his hand on Buck’s head, 
"A dog,” the Boss said, "is man’s best friend. Old Buck, he’s the 
best friend 1 ever had.” He scratched the brute’s head. "Yeah, good 
old Buck,” the Boss said, "the best friend I ever had. But God damn 
it,” he said, and stood up so quick that Buck’s head slid off his knee, 
"he don’t smell a bit better’n the rest of ’em.” 

"Is that for the record, Boss?” one of the reporters asked. 

"Sure,” the Boss said. "He smells just like the rest of ’em.” 

Then we cleared Buck’s carcass off the steps, and the photogra- 
pher settled into the grind. He took the Boss and the family in 
et^ery possible combination. Then he got his rig together, and said: 

30 



'‘Governor, you know we want a picture o£ you upstairs. In the 
room you used to have when you were a kid. It will be the nuts.’‘ 

“Yeah," the Boss said, “the nuts." 

That was my idea. It would be the nuts all right. The Boss sit- 
ting there with an old schoolbook in his hands. A good example 
for the tots. So we went upstairs. 

It was a little room, with bare board floor and tongue-and-groove 
beaded walls, which had been painted yellow one time, but had the 
paint crazing off the wood now in the sections where any paint was 
left. There was a big wooden bed with a high head and foot stand- 
ing somewhat off the perpendicular, and a white counterpane on 
the bed. There was a table— a pine table— and a couple of straight 
chairs, and a stove— the kind of tin stove they call a trash-burner, 
pretty rusty now— and against the wall beyond the stove a couple of 
home-made bookcases, crammed with books. Third readers and 
geographies and algebras and such in one of them, and a lot of 
crummy old law books in the other. 

The Boss stood in the middle of the floor and took a good look, 
all around, while the rest of us hung around the door bunched up 
like sheep and waited. “Jesus," the Boss said, “put the old white 
thunder-mug under the bed and it'll look just like home." 

I looked over at the bed, and the crockery wasn't there. It was the 
only prop missing. That and a kid with a pudgy face and freckles 
on his face and sandy hair falling down on his forehead, bending 
down at the table by a coal-oil lamp— it must have been a coal-oil 
lamp then— and a pencil in his hand, tooth marks on the pencil 
where he’d been gnawing at it, and the fire in the trash-burner get- 
ting low, and the wind pounding on the north side of the house, 
pounding down off the Dakotas a thousand miles away and across 
the plains which were icy and pearl-blind with the snow polished 
hard under the wind and glimmering in the dark, and across the 
river bottoms, and across tlie hills where the pine trees had stood 
once and moaned in the wind but where there wasn’t anything to 
break the wind now. The sash in the window on the north wail of 
the room would rattle under the wind, and the flame in the coal- 
oil lamp would bend and shiver in what current of air sneaked in, 
but the kid wouldn’t look up. He would gnaw his pencil, and 
hunch down. Then after a while he would blow out the lamp and 
pull off his clothes and get into bed, wearing his underwear. The 
sheets would be cold to the skin and stiff-feeling. He would lie 
there and shiver in the dark. The wind would come down a thou- 
sand miles and pound on the house and the sash would rattle and 
inside him something would be big and coiling slow and clotting 

n 



till he would hold his breath and the blood would beat in his head 
with a hollow sound as though his head were a cave as big as the 
dark outside. He wouldn’t have any name for what was big inside 
him. Maybe there isn’t any name. 

That was all there was missing from the room, the kid and the 
thunder-mug. Otherwise it was perfect. 

“Yeah,” the Boss was saying, “it’s sure gone. But it’s O.K. by me. 
Maybe sitting over running water puts phlegm in your gut like the 
old folks say, but it would sure have made learning law a hell of a 
lot more comfortable. And you wouldn’t have to waste so much 
time.” 

The Boss was a slow mover. Many’s the time we’ve settled ah 
fairs of state through a bathroom door, the Boss on the inside and 
me on the outside sitting on a chair with my little black notebook 
on my knee and the telephone ringing to beat hell. 

But now the photographer started arranging things. He got the 
Boss to sit at the table and pore over a dog-eared reader, and he 
fired off his flash bulb and got that. And he got a half dozen more, 
the Boss sitting in a chair by the trash-burner, holding an old law 
book on his knees, and God knows what else. 

I wandered off downstairs and left them preparing the docu' 
ments for posterity. 

When I got to the bottom of the stairs I could hear voices in the 
parlor, and figured it was the old man and Lucy Stark and Sadie 
Burke and the kid. I went out the back way. to the back porch. 1 
could hear the nigger woman puttering around in the kitchen, 
humming to herself about her and Jesus. I walked across the back 
yard, where there wasn’t any grass. When the fall rains came there 
wouldn’t be anything here but a loblolly with the crazy marks 
made in it by hens’ feet. But it was dust now. There was a china- 
berry tree beside the gate letting you into the back lot, and as I 
went through the gate the berries scattered on the ground crunched 
under my feet like bugs. 

I went on down the lot, past a row of gable-shaped chicken 
coops, made of wood which had been split out like shingles, and set 
on cypress chunks to keep them out of the wet. I went on down to 
the barn and stable lot, where a couple of able-bodied but moth- 
eaten mules hung their heads in the unflagging shame of their 
species beside a big iron pot, the kind they use for cooking up 
molasses. The pot w^as a water trough now. There was a pipe stick- 
ing up beside it with a faucet on it. One of the Boss’s modern im- 
provements you couldn’t see from the road. 

I went on past the stables, which were built of log, but with a 

32 



good tin roof, and leaned on the fence, looking oif down the rise. 
Back of the barn the ground was washed and gullied somewhat, 
with piles of brush chucked into the washes here and there to stop 
the process. As though it ever would. A hundred yards off, at the 
foot o£ the rise, there was a patch of woods, scrub oak and such. 
The ground must have been swampy down there, for the grass and 
weeds at the edge of the trees were lush and tropical green. Against 
the bare ground beyond it looked too green to be natural. I could 
see a couple of hogs lounging down there on their sides, like big 
gray blisters popped up out of the ground. 

It was getting toward sunset now. I leaned on the fence and 
looked off west across the country where the light was stretching 
out, and breathed in that dry, clean, ammoniac smell you get 
around stables at sunset on a summer day. I figured they would 
find me when they wanted me. I didn’t have the slightest notion 
when that would be. The Boss and his family, I reckoned, would 
spend the night at his pappy’s place. The reporters and the photog- 
rapher and Sadie would get on back to the city. Mr. Duffy— maybe 
he was supposed to put up in Mason City at the hotel. Or maybe 
he and I were supposed to stay at Pappy’s place too. If they put us 
in the same bed though, I was just going to start walking in to 
Mason City. Then there was Sugar-Boy. But I quit thinking about 
it. I didn’t give a damn what they did. 

I leaned on the fence, and the posture bowed my tail out so that 
the cloth of my pants pulled tight and pressed the pint against my 
left hip. I thought about that for a minute and admired the sunset 
colorations and breathed the dry, clean, ammoniac smell, and then 
pulled out the bottle. I took a drink and put it back. I leaned on 
the fence and waited for the sunset colorations to explode in my 
stomach, which they did. 

I heard somebody open and shut the gate to the barn lot, but I 
didn’t look around. If I didn’t look around it would not be true 
that somebody had opened the gate with the creaky hinges, and 
that is a wonderful principle for a man to get hold of. I had got 
hold of the principle out of a book when I was in college, and I 
had hung on to it for grim death. I owed my success in life to that 
principle. It had put me where I was. What you don’t know don’t 
hurt you, for it ain’t real. They called that Idealism in my book I 
had when I was in college, and after I got hold of that principle 
I became an Idealist. I was a brass-bound Idealist in those days. If 
you are an Idealist it does not matter what you do or what goes on 
around you because it isn’t real anyway. 

The steps came closer and closer, padded in the soft dust. I didn’t 

33 



look up. Then I felt the wire of the fence creak and give because 
somebody else was leaning against it and admiring the sunset. Mr. 
X and I admired the sunset together for a couple of minutes, and 
nothing said. Except for the sound of his breathing I wouldn’t have 
known he was there. 

Then there was a movement and the wire shifted when Mr. X 
took his weight ofE it. Then the hand patted my left hip, and the 
voice said, *'Gimme a slug.” It was the Boss’s voice. 

‘‘Take it,” I said. “You know where it lives.” 

He lifted up my coattail and pulled out the bottle. I could hear 
the gurgle as he did the damage. Then the wire shifted again as 
he leaned against it. 

“I figured you’d come down here,” he said. 

“And you wanted a drink,’' I replied without bitterness. 

“Yeah,” he said, “and Pappy doesn’t favor drinking. Never did.” 

I looked up at him. He was leaning on the fence, bearing down 
on the wire in a way not to do it any good, with the bottle held in 
both hands, corked, and his forearms propped over the wire. 

“It used to be Lucy didn’t favor it either,” I said. 

“Things change,” he said. He uncorked the bottle and took an- 
other pull, and corked it again. “But Lucy,” he said, “I don’t know 
whether she’s changed or not. I don’t know whether she favors it 
or not now. She never touches it herself. Maybe she sees it eases a 
man’s nerves.” 

I laughed. “You haven't got any nerves,” I told him. 

“I’m a bundle of nerves,” he said, and grinned. 

We kept on leaning against the fence, watching the light lying 
across the country and hitting the clump of trees down the rise. 
The Boss leaned his head a little forward and let a big globule of 
spit form at his lips and let it fall through the space between his 
forearms down to the board hog trough just over the fence from us. 
The trough was dry, with a few odd red grains of corn and a few 
shreds of shucks lying in it and on the ground by it. 

“Things don't change much around here, though,” the Boss said 

That didn't seem to demand any response, and so I didn’t give it 
any, 

“I bet I dumped ten thousand gallons of swill into that trough,” 
he said, “one time and another.” He let another glob of spit fall 
into the trough. “I bet I slopped five hundred head of hogs out of 
this trough,” he said. “And,” he said, “by God, I’m still doing it 
Pouring swill.” 

“Well,” I said, “swill is what they live on, isn’t it?” 

He didn't say anything to that. 

34 



The hinges of the gate up the lot creaked again, and I looked 
around. There wasn*t any reason not to now. It was Sadie Burke. 
She was plowing her white oxfords through the dust as though sho 
meant business, and every time she took a stride it looked as though 
she were going to pop the skirt of her blue-striped seersucker suit, 
she was in such a rush. The Boss turned around, looked at the 
bottle in his hand, then passed it to me. “What’s up?” he asked her 
when she got within ten feet. 

She didn’t answer right away, but came up close. She was breath- 
ing hard from the rush. The light hit her on her slightly pock- 
marked face, which was damp now with perspiration, and her 
chopped-off black hair was wild and electric on her head, and her 
big, deep, powerful black eyes burned right out of her face into the 
sunlight. 

“What’s up?” the Boss demanded again. 

“Judge Irwin,” she managed to get out with what breath she had 
after the rush. 

“Yeah?” the Boss said. He was still lounging against the wire, but 
he was looking at Sadie as though she might draw a gun and he was 
planning on beating her to the draw. 

“Matlock called up— long-distance from town— and he said the 
afternoon paper—’* 

“Spill it,” the Boss said, “spill it.’* 

“Damn it,” Sadie said, “I’ll spill it when I get good and ready. 
I’ll spill it when I get my breath. If I’m good and ready, and if 
you—” 

“You’re using up a lot of breath right now,’* the Boss said with 
a tone of voice which made you think of rubbing your hand down 
a cat’s back, just as soft. 

“It’s my breath,” Sadie snapped at him, “and nobody’s bought it 
I damned near break myself down running out here to tell you 
something and then you say spill it, spill it. Before I can get my 
breath. And I’ll just tell you when I get good and ready. When I 
get my breath and—’* 

“You don’t sound exactly wind-broke,’* the Boss observed, lean- 
ing back on the hog wire and grinning. 

“You think it’s so damned funny,” Sadie said, “oh, yeah, so 
damned funny.” 

The Boss didn’t answer that. He just kept leaning on the wire 
as though he had all day before him, and kept on grinning. When 
he grinned like that it didn’t do much to soothe Sadie’s feelings, I 
had observed in the past. And the symptoms seemed to be running 
true to form. 


35 



So I decorously withdrew my gaze from the pair, and resumed 
my admiration of the dying day on the other side of the hog lot 
and the elegiac landscape. Not that they would have bothered about 
me if they had anything on their minds—neither one of them. 
Powers, Thrones, and Dominations might be gathered round, and 
if Sadie felt like it she would cut loose, and the B6ss wasn’t pre- 
cisely of a shrinking disposition. They’d get started like that over 
nothing at all sometimes, the Boss just lying back and grinning and 
working Sadie up till those big black glittering eyes of hers would 
almost pop out of her head and a hank of her black hair would 
separate from the tangle and hang down by her face so she’d have 
to swipe it back with the back of a hand. She would say plenty 
while she got worked up, but the Boss wouldn’t say much. He’d 
just grin at her. He seemed to take a relish in getting her worked 
up that way and lying back and watching it. Even when she slapped 
him once, a good hard one, he kept on looking at her that way, as 
though she were a hula girl doing a dance for him. He relished her 
getting worked up, all right, unless she finally landed on a sore 
spot. She was the only one who knew the trick. Or had the nerve. 
Then the show would really start. They wouldn’t care who was 
there. Certainly not if I was there, and there wasn’t any reason for 
me to avert my face out of delicacy. I had been a piece of furniture 
a long time, but some taint of the manners my grandma taught me 
still hung on and now and then got the better of my curiosity. Sure 
I was a piece of furniture— with two legs and a pay check coming- 
hut I looked off at the sunset, anyway. 

'‘Oh, it’s so damned funny,” Sadie was saying, “but you won’t 
think it’s so damned funny when I tell you.” She stopped, then 
said, “Judge Irwin has come out for Callahan.” 

There wasn’t any sound for what must have been three seconds 
but seemed like a week while a mourning dove down in the clump 
of trees in the bottom where the hogs were gave a couple of tries at 
breaking his heart and mine. 

Then I heard the Boss say, “The bastard.” 

“It was in the afternoon paper— the endorsement,” Sadie elabo- 
rated. “Matlock telephoned from town. To let you know.” 

“The two-timing bastard,” the Boss said. 

Then he heaved up oflE the wire, and I turned around. I figured 
the conclave was about to break up. It was. “Come on,” the Boss 
said, and started moving up the hill toward the house, Sadie by his 
side popping her seersucker skirt to keep up with him, and I trail- 
ing. 

About the time we got to the gate where the chinaberry tree was 

36 



and the berries on the ground popped under your feet, the Boss 
said to Sadie, '*Get ’em cleared out.” 

“Tiny was figuring on having supper out here,” Sadie said, “and 
Sugar-Boy was gonna drive him to Mason City in time for the 
eight-o’clock train to town. You asked him.” 

“I’m un-asking him,” the Boss replied. “Clear ’em all out.” 

“It’ll be a privilege,” Sadie said, and I reckoned she spoke from 
the heart. 

She cleared them out, and fast. Their car went off down the 
gravel road with the springs flat on the rear axle and human flesh 
oozing out the windows, then the evening quiet descended upon us. 
I went to the other side of the house where a hammock made out 
of wire and barrel staves, the kind they rig up in that part of the 
world, was swung between a post and the live oak. I took off my 
coat and hung it on the post, and dropped my bottle into the side 
pocket so it wouldn’t break my hip bone when I lay down, and 
climbed into the hammock. 

The Boss was down at the other end of the yard where the crepe 
myrtles were, prowling up and down on the dusty grass stems. Weil, 
it was all his baby, and he could give it suck. I just lay there in the 
hammock. I lay there and watched the undersides of the oak leaves, 
dry and grayish and dusty-green, and some of them I saw had rusty- 
corroded-looking spots on them. Those were the ones which would 
turn loose their grip on the branch before long—not in any breeze, 
the fibers would just relax, in the middle of the day maybe with 
the sunshine bright and the air so still it aches like the place where 
the tooth was on the morning after you’ve been to the dentist or 
aches like your heart in the bosom when you stand on the street 
corner waiting for the light to change and happen to recollect how 
things once were and how they might have been yet if what hap- 
pened had not happened. 

Then, while I was watching the leaves I heard a dry, cracking 
sound down toward the barnyard. Then it came again. Then I 
figured out what it was. It was Sugar-Boy off down in the lot play- 
ing with his .38 Special again. He would set up a tin can or a bottle 
on a post, and turn his back to the post and start walking away, 
carrying his baby in his left hand, by the barrel, the safety on, just 
walking steadily away on his stumpy little legs with his always blue 
serge pants bagging around his underslung behind and with the 
last rays of the evening sun faintly glittering on his bald spot 
among the. scrubby patches of hair like bleached lichen. Then, all 
of a sudden, he would stop walking, and grab the butt of the play- 
pretty with his right hand, and wheel-all in one quick, awkward 

37 



motion, as though a spring had exploded inside him— and the play- 
pretty would go bang, and the tin can would jump off the post or 
the bottle would spray off in all directions. Or most likely. Then 
Sugar-Boy would say, '‘The b-b-b-bas-tud/' and shake his head, and 
the spit would fly. 

There would be a single cracking sound and a long wait. That 
meant he had hit it the first try, and was trudging back to the post 
to set up another. Then, after a spell, there would be another crack, 
and a wait. Then, one time, there came two cracics, close together. 
That meant Sugar-Boy had missed the first try and had got it on 
the second. 

Then I must have dozed off, for I came to with the Boss standing 
there, saying, “Time to eat/' 

So we went in and ate. 

We sat down at the table. Old Man Stark at one end and Lucy at 
the other. Lucy wiped the perspiration-soaked wisp of hair back 
from her face, and gave that last-minute look around the table to 
^ee if anything was missing, like a general inspecting troops. She 
was in l^er element, all right. She had been out of it for a long time, 
but when you dropped her back in it she hit running, like a cat out 
of a sack. 

The jaws got to work around the table, and she watched them 
work. She sat there, not eating much and keeping a sharp eye out 
for a vacant place on any plate and watching the jaws work, and 
as she sat there, her face seemed to smooth itself out and relax with 
an inner faith in happiness the way the face of the chief engineer 
does when he goes down to the engine room at night and the big 
wheel is blurred out with its speed and the pistons plunge and re- 
turn and the big steel throws are leaping in their perfect orbits like 
a ballet, and the whole place, under the electric glare, hums and 
glitters and sings like the eternal insides of God's head, and the 
5hip is knocking off twenty-two knots on a glassy, starlit sea. 

So the jaw muscles pumped all around the table, and Lucy Stark 
^at there in the bliss of self-fulfillment. 

I had just managed to get down the last spoonful of chocolate 
ice cream, which I had had to tamp down into my gullet like wet 
concrete in a posthole, when the Boss, who was a powerful and 
systematic eater, took his last bite, lifted up his head, wiped off the 
lower half of his face with a napkin, and said, “Well, it looks like 
Jack and Sugar-Boy and me are going to take the night air down 
the highway.” 

Lucy Stark looked up at the Boss right quick, then looked away, 
and straightened a salt shaker. At first guess it might have been the 

38 



Xook any wife gives her husband when he shoves back after supper 
and announces he thinks he'll step down town for a minute. Then 
you knew it wasn’t that. It didn’t have any question, or protest, or 
rebuke, or command, or self-pity, or whine, or oh-so-you-don’t-love- 
me-any-more in it. It just didn’t have anything in it, and that was 
what made it remarkable. It was a feat. Any act of pure perception 
is a feat, and if you don’t believe it, try it sometime. 

But Old Man Stark looked at the Boss, and said, *1 sorta reckined 
—I reckined you was gonna stay out here tonight.’' There wasn’t 
any trouble figuring out what he said, though. The child comes 
home and the parent puts the hooks in him. The old man, or the 
woman, as the case may be, hasn’t got anything to say to the child. 
All he wants is to have that child sit in a chair for a couple of hours 
and then go off to bed under the same roof. It’s not love. I am not 
saying that there is not such a thing as love. I am merely pointing 
to something which is different from love but which sometimes goes 
by the name of love. It may well be that without this thing which 
I am talking about there would not be any love. But this thing in 
itself is not love. It is just something in the blood. It is a kind of 
blood greed, and it is the fate of a man. It is the thing which man 
has which distinguishes him from the happy brute creation. When 
you get born your father and mother lost something out of them- 
selves, and they are going to bust a hame trying to get it back, and 
you are it. They know they can’t get it all back but’ they will get 
as big a chunk out of you as they can. And the good old family 
reunion, with picnic dinner under the maples, is very much like 
diving into the octopus tank at the aquarium. Anyway, that is 
what I would have said back then, that evening. 

So Old Man Stark swallowed his Adam’s apple a couple of times 
and lifted his misty, sad old blue eyes to the Boss, who happened 
to be flesh of his flesh though you’d never guess it, and threw in the 
hook. But it didn’t snag a thing. Not on Willie. 

‘’Nope," the Boss said, “I gotta shove." 

“I sorta reckined—’’ the old man began, then surrendered, and 
tailed off, "but if’n it’s business—’’ 

"It is not business," the Boss said. "It is pure pleasure. At least 
I’m aiming for it to be before I’m through." Then he laughed and 
got up from the table, and gave his wife a smack of a kiss on the 
left cheek, slapped his son on the shoulder in tliat awkward way 
fathers have of slapping their sons on the shoulder (there is always 
a kind of apology in it, and anybody, even the Boss, who slapped 
Tom Stark on the shoulder had better apologize, for he was an 
arrogant bastard and when his father that night slapped hi m on 

39 



the shoulder he didn't even bother to look up). Then the Boss said, 
"Don't wait up," and started out the door. Sugar-Boy and I fol- 
lowed. That was the first news I had had that I was going to take 
the night air. But it was all the warning you usually got from the 
Boss. I knew enough to know that. 

The Boss was already sitting in the front by the driver's seat 
when I got to the Cadillac. So I got in the back, and prepared my 
soul for the experience of being hurled from one side to the other 
when we hit the curves. Sugar-Boy crawled under the wheel, and 
touched the starter, and began to make a sound like "Wh-wh-wh- 
wh— ” A sound like an owl tuning up off in the swamp at night. If 
he had enough time and the spit held out, he would ask, "Where 
to?" But the Boss didn’t wait. He said, "Burden’s Landing.” 

So that was it. Burden's Landing. Well I ought to have guessed 
that. 

Burden's Landing is one hundred and thirty miles from Mason 
City, off to the southwest. If you multiply one hundred and thirty 
by two it makes two hundred and sixty miles. It was near nine 
o'clock and the stars were out and the ground mist was beginning 
to show in the low places. God knew what time it would be when 
we got back to bed, and up the next morning to face a hearty 
breakfast and the ride back to the capital. 

I lay back in the seat and closed my eyes. The gravel sprayed on 
the undersides of the fenders, and then it stopped spraying and 
the tail of the car lurched to one side, and me with it, and I knew 
we were back ori the slab and leveling out for the job. 

We would go gusting along the slab, which would be pale in the 
starlight between the patches of woods and the dark fields where the 
mist was rising. Way off from the road a barn would stick up out 
of the mist like a house sticking out of the rising water when the 
river breaks the levee. Close to the road a cow would stand knee- 
deep in the mist, with horns damp enough to have a pearly shine 
in the starlight, and would look at the black blur we were as we 
went whirling into the blazing corridor of light which we could 
never quite get into for it would be always splitting the dark just 
in front of us. The cow would stand there knee-deep in the mist 
and look at the black blur and the blaze and then, not turning its 
head, at the place where the black blur and blaze had been, with 
the remote, massive, unvindictive indifference of God-All-Mighty 
or Fate or me, if I were standing there knee-deep in the mist, and 
the blur and the blaze whizzed past and withered on off between 
the fields and the patches of woods. 

40 



But I wasn’t' standing there in the field, in the dark, with the 
mist turning slow around my knees and the ticking no-noise of the 
night inside my head. I was in a car, headed back to Burden’s 
Landing, which was named for the people from whom I got my 
name, and which was the place where I had been born and raised. 

We would go on between the fields until we hit a town. The 
houses would be lined up along the street, under the trees, with 
their lights going out now, until we hit the main street, where the 
lights would be bright around the doorway of the movie house and 
the bugs would be zooming against the bulbs and would ricochet 
off to hit the concrete pavement and make a dry crunch when 
somebody stepped on them. The men standing in front of the pool 
hall would look up and see the big black crate ghost down the 
street and one of them would spit on the concrete and say, '‘The 
bastard, he reckins he’s somebody,” and wish that he was in a big 
black car, as big as a hearse and the springs soft as mamma’s breast 
and the engine breathing without a rustle at seventy-five, going oflE 
into the dark somewhere. Well, I was going somewhere. I was going 
back to Burden’s Landing. 

We would come into Burden’s Landing by the new boulevard 
by the bay. The air would smell salty, with maybe a taint of the 
fishy, sad, sweet smell of the tidelands to it, but fresh nevertheless. 
It would be nearly midnight then, and the lights would be off in 
the three blocks of down-town then. Beyond the down-town and 
the little houses, there would be the other houses along the bay, set 
back in the magnolias and oaks, with the white walls showing glim- 
meringly beyond the darkness of the trees, and the jalousies, which 
in the daytime would be green, looking dark against the white 
walls. Folks would be lying back in the rooms behind the jalousies, 
with nothing but a sheet over thto. Well, I'd put in a good many 
nights behind those jalousies, from the time I was little enough to 
wet the bed. I’d been born in one of those rooms behind the 
jalousies. And behind one set of them my mother would be lying 
up there tonight, with a little fluting of lace on the straps of her 
nightgown, and her face smooth like a girl’s except for the little 
lines, which you wouldn’t be able to make out in the shadow any- 
way, at the corners of her mouth and eyes, and one bare arm laid 
out on the sheet with the sharp, brittle-looking, age-betraying hand 
showing the painted nails. Theodore Murrell would be lying there, 
too, breathing with a slightly adenoidal sibilance under his beauti- 
ful blonde mustache. Well, it was all legal, for she was married to 
Theodore Murrell, who was a lot younger than my mother and 
who had beautiful yellow hair scrolled on top of his round skull 

41 



like taffy, and who was my stepfather. Well, he wasn't the first step- 
father I had had. 

Then, on down the row, behind its own live oaks and magnolias, 
there would be the Stanton house, locked up and nobody behind 
the jalousies, for Anne and Adam were in town now, and grown up 
and never went fishing with me any more, and the old man was 
dead. Then on down the row, where the open country began, would 
be the house of Judge Irwin. We wouldn't stop before we got there. 
But we’d make a little call on the Judge, 

''Boss,” I said. 

The Boss turned around, and I saw the chunky black shape of his 
head against the brightness of our headlights. 

"What you gonna say to him?" I asked. 

"Boy, you never know till the time comes," he said. "Hell," he 
amended, "maybe I won’t say anything to him a-tall. I don’t know 
as I’ve got anything to say to him. I just want to look at him good." 

"The Judge won’t scare easy,” I said. No, I didn’t reckon the 
Judge would scare easy, thinking of the straight back of the man 
who used to swing off the saddle and drop the bridle over a paling 
on the Stanton fence and walk up the shell walk to the veranda 
with his Panama in his hand and the coarse dark-red hair bristling 
off his high skull like a mane and the hooked red nose jutting off 
his face and the yellow irises of his eyes bright and hard-looking as 
tqpaz. That was nearly twenty years before, all right, and maybe 
the back wasn’t as straight now as it had been then (a thing like 
that happens so slowly you don’t notice it) and maybe the yellow 
eyes were a little bleary lately, but I still didn’t reckon the Judge 
would scare easy. That was one thing on which I figured I could 
bet: he wouldn’t scare. If he did, it was going to be a disappoint- 
ment to me. ^ 

"No, I don’t count on him scaring easy," the Boss said, "I just 
want to look at him." 

"Well, God damn it," I popped out, and came up off my shoulder 
blades before I knew it, "you’re crazy to think you can scare himl" 

"Take it easy," the Boss said, and laughed. I couldn’t see his face. 
It was just a black blob against the glare of the headlights, with the 
laugh coming out of it. 

"I just want to look at him," the Boss said, “like I told you." 

"Well, you sure picked a hell of a time and a hell of a long way 
to go look at him," I said, not feeling anything but peevish now, 
and falling back on my shoulder blades where I belonged. "Why 
don't you get him to see you in town sometime?" 

**Sometime ain’t ever now,** the Boss said. 

42 



“It's a hell of a thing," I said, “for you to be doing." 

VSo you think it's beneath my dignity, huh?'’ the Boss asked. 

“Well, you're Governor. They tell me." 

“Yeah, I’m Governor, Jack, and the trouble with Governors is 
they think they got to keep their dignity. But listen here, there 
ain't anything worth doing a man can do and keep his dignity. Can 
you figure out a single thing you really please-God like to do you 
can do and keep your dignity? The human frame just ain't built 
that way." 

“All right,” I said, 

“And when I get to be President, if I want to see somebody I'm 
gonna go right out and see 'em." 

“Sure,” I said, “in the middle of the night, but when you do I 
hope you leave me at home to get a night's sleep maybe." 

“The hell I will," he said. “\^en I'm President I'm gonna take 
you with me. I'm gonna keep you and Sugar-Boy right in the White 
House so I can have you all handy. Sugar-Boy can have him a pistol 
range in the back hall and a brace of Republican Congressmen to 
be caddy for him and set up the tin cans, and you can bring your 
girls right in the big front door, and there's gonna be a member of 
the Cabinet to hold their coats and pick up hair pins after 'em. 
There's gonna be a special member of the Cabinet to do it. He's 
gonna be the Secretary of the Bedchamber of Jack Burden, and he 
will keep the telephone numbers straight and send back any little 
pink silk articles to the right address when they happen to get left 
behind. Tiny’s got the buifd, so I’m gonna get him a little opera- 
tion and put flowing silk pants on him and a turban and give him 
a tin scimitar like he was a High Grand Shriner or something, and 
he can sit on a tuffet outside your door and be the Secretary of the 
Bedchamber. And how you like that, boy, huh?" And he reached 
back over the back of the front seat and slapped me on the knee. 
He had to reach a long way back, for it was a long way from the 
front seat of the Cadillac to my knee even if I was lying on my 
shoulder blades. 

“You will go down in history," I said. 

“Boy, wouldn’t 11" And he started' to l^ugh. He turned round to 
watch the lit-up road, and kept on laughing. 

Then we hit a little town and beyond it a filling station and 
lunch stand. Sugar-Boy got some gas and brought the Boss and me 
a couple of cokes. Then we went on. 

The Boss didn’t say another word till we hit Burden's Landing. 
Ail he said then was, “Jack, you tell Sugar-Boy how to find the^ 
house. It’s your pab live down here.” 

4S 



Yes, my pals lived down there. Or had lived down there. Adam 
and Anne Stanton had lived down there, in the white house where 
their widowed father, the Governor, lived. They had been my 
friends, Anne and Adam. Adam and I had fished and sailed all over 
that end of the Gulf of Mexico, and Anne, who was big-eyed and 
quiet-faced and thin, had been with us, close and never saying a 
word. And Adam and I had hunted and camped all over the coun- 
try, and Anne had been there, a thin-legged little girl about four 
years younger than we were. And we had sat by the fire in the Stan- 
ton house~or in my house— and had played with toys or read books 
while Anne sat there. Then after a long time Anne wasn't a little 
girl any more. She was a big girl and I was so much in love with 
her that I lived in a dream. In that dream ray heart seemed to be 
ready to burst, for it seemed that the whole world was inside it 
swelling to get out and be the world. But that summer came to an 
end. Time passed and nothing happened that we had felt so certain 
at one time would happen. So now Anne was an old maid living 
in the city, and even if she did look pretty good yet and wore 
clothes that didn't hurt her any, her laugh was getting brittle and 
there was a drawn look on her face as though she were trying to 
remember something. What was Anne trying to remember? Well, 
I didn't have to try to remember. I could remember but I didn't 
want to remember. If the human race didn't remember anything 
it would be perfectly happy, I was a student of history once in a 
university and if I learned anything from studying history that was 
what I learned. Or to be more exact, that was what I thought I had 
learned. 

We would go down the Row— the line of houses facing the bay— 
and that was the place where all my pals had been. Anne, who was 
an old maid, or damned near it. Adam, who was a famous surgeon 
and who was nice to me but didn't go fishing with me any more. 
And Judge Irwin, who lived in the last house, and who had been 
a friend of my family and who used to take me hunting with him 
and taught me to shoot and taught me to ride and read history to 
me from leather-bound books in the big study in his house. After 
Ellis Burden went away he was more of a father to me than those 
men who had married my mother and come to live in Ellis Bur- 
den's house. And the Judge was a man. 

So I told Sugar-Boy how to get through town and to the Row 
where all my pals lived or had lived. We pulled through the town, 
where the lights were out except for the bulbs hanging from the 
telephone poles, and on out the Bay Road where the houses were 
bone-white back among the magnolias and live oaks. 

44 



At night you pass through a little town where you once lived, 
and you expect to see yourself wearing knee pants, standing all 
alone on the street corner under the hanging bulbs, where the bugs 
bang on the tin reflectors and splatter to the pavement to lie 
stunned. You expect to see that boy standing there under the street 
lamp, out too late, and you feel like telling him he ought to go 
on home to bed or there will be hell to pay. But maybe you are 
home in bed and sound asleep and not dreaming and nothing has 
ever happened that seems to have happened. But, then, who the 
hell is this in the back seat of the big black Cadillac that comes 
ghosting through the town? Why, this is Jack Burden. Don’t you 
remember little Jack Burden? He used to go out in his boat in the 
afternoon on the bay to fish, and come home and eat his supper 
and kiss his beautiful mother good night and say his prayers and go 
to bed at nine-thirty. Oh, you mean old Ellis Burden’s boy? Yeah, 
and that woman he married out of Texas— or was it Arkansas?— that 
big-eyed thin-faced woman who lives up there in that old Burden 
place now with that man she got herself. What ever happened to 
Ellis Burden? Hell, I don’t know, nobody around here had any 
word going on years. He was a queer 'un. Damn if he wasn’t queer, 
going off and leaving a real looker like that woman out of Arkansas. 
Maybe he couldn’t give her what she craved. Well, he give her that 
boy, that Jack Burden. Yeah. 

You come into the town at night and there are the voices. 

We had got to the end of the Row, and I saw the house bone- 
white back among the dark oak boughs. 

“Here it is,” I said. 

“Park out here,” the Boss said. And then to me, “There’s a light. 
The bugger ain’t in bed. You go on and knock on the door and 
tell him I want to see him.” 

“Suppose he won’t open up?” 

“He will,” the Boss said. “But if he wonT you make him. What 
the hell do I pay you for?” 

I got out of the car and went in the gate and started up the shell 
walk under the black trees. Then I heard the Boss coming after 
me. We went up the walk, with him just behind me, and up the 
gallery steps. 

The Boss stood to one side, and I pulled open the screen and 
knocked on the door. I knocked again; then looking in through 
the glass by the door I saw a door open off the hall— where the 
library was, I remembered-*then a side light come on in the halL 
He was coming to the door. I could see him through the glass while 
he fumbled with the lock. 

45 



“Yes?” he asked. 

“Good evening. Judge,” I said. 

He stood there blinking into the dark outside, trying to make 
out my face. 

”lt*s Jack Burden,” I said. 

“Well, well. Jack— well I'll be jiggeredi” And he put out his 
hand. ‘'Come in.” He even looked glad to see me. 

I shook hands and stepped inside, where the mirrors in the peel- 
ing gold frames glimmered on the walls in the rays of the not bright 
side light, and the glass of the big hurricane lamps glimmered on 
the marble-top stands. 

“What can I do for you. Jack?” he asked me, and gave me a look 
out of his yellow eyes. They hadn't changed much, even if the rest 
of him had. 

‘'Well,” I began, and didn't know how I was going to end, “I 
just wanted to see if you were up and could talk to—” 

"Sure, Jack, come on in. You aren't in any trouble, son? Let me 
shut the door first, and—*' 

He turned to shut the door, and if his ticker hadn’t been in good 
shape for all his near three score and ten he’d have dropped dead. 
For the Boss was standing there in the door. He hadn’t made a 
sound. 

As it was, the Judge didn't drop dead. And his face didn’t show 
a thing. But I felt him stiffen. You turn to shut a door some night 
and find somebody standing there out of the dark, and you’ll take 
a jump, too. 

“No,” the Boss said, easy and grinning, taking his hat off his head 
and stepping inside just as though he’d been invited, which he 
hadn't been, “no. Jack isn't in any trouble. Not that I know of. 
Nor me either.” 

The Judge was looking at me now. “I beg your pardon,” he said 
to me, in a voice he knew how to make cold and rasping like an old 
phonograph needle scraping on an oM record, “I had forgotten for 
the moment how well your needs are provided for.” 

“Oh, Jack’s making out,” the Boss said. 

“And you, sir—” the Judge turned on the Boss, and slanted his 
yellow eyes down on him— for he was a half a head taller— and I 
could see the jaw muscles twitch and knot under the folds of red- 
rusty and seamed skin on his long jaw, “do you wish to say some- 
thing to me?” 

“Well, I don't know as I do,” the Boss remarked, ofEhand. “Not 
at the moment.” 

“Well,” the Judge said, “in that case—” 

46 



“Oh, something might develop,” the Boss broke in, “You never 
can tell. If we get the weight off our arches.” 

“In that case,” the Judge resumed, and it was an old needle and 
an old record and it was scraping like a file on cold tin and nothing 
human, “I may say that I was about to retire.” 

“Oh, it’s early yet,” the Boss said, and took his time giving Judge 
Irwin the once-over from head to toe. The Judge was wearing an 
old-fashioned velvet smoking jacket and tuxedo pants and a boiled 
shirt, but he had taken off his collar and tie and the gold collar 
button was shining just under the big old red Adam’s apple. 
“Yeah,” the Boss went on, after he’d finished the once-over, “and 
you’ll sleep better if you wait before going to bed and give that 
fine dinner you had a chance to digest.” 

And he just began walking down the hall toward the door where 
the light yj2LS, the door to the library. 

Judge Irwin looked at the Boss’s back as the Boss just walked 
away, the Palm Beach coat all aumpled up where it had crawled 
on the Boss’s shoulders and the old sweat-stains of the afternoon 
showing dark at the armpits. The Judge’s yellow eyes were near to 
popping out of his face and the blood was up in his face till it was 
the color of calf’s liver in a butcher shop. Then he began to walk 
down the hall after the Boss. 

I followed the pair of them. 

^The Boss was already sitting in a big old scuffed leather easy chair 
when I went in. I stood there against the wall, under the book- 
shelves that went up to the ceiling, full of old leather books, a lot 
of them law books, that got lost in the shadows up above and made 
the room smell musty like old cheese. Well, the room hadn’t 
changed any. I could remember that smell from the long after- 
noons I had spent in that room, reading by myself or hearing the 
Judge’s voice reading to me, while a log crackled on the hearth and 
the clock in the corner, a big grandfather’s clock, offered us the 
slow, small, individual pellets of time. It was the same room. There 
were the big steel engravings on the wall— by Piranesi, in the heavy, 
scrollwork frames, the Tiber, the Colosseum, some ruined temple. 
And the riding crops on the mantel and on the desk, and the silver 
cups the Judge’s dogs had won in the field trials and the Judge had 
won shooting. The gun rack, over in the shadow by the door, was 
out of the light from the big brass reading lamp on the desk, but 
I knew every gun in it, and knew the gun’s feel. 

The Judge didn’t sit down. He stood in the middle of the floor 
and looked down at the Boss, who had his legs stuck out on the red 
carpet. And the Judge didn’t say anything. Something was going on 
, 47 



inside his head. You knew that if he had a little glass window in 
the side of that tall skull, where the one-time thick, dark-red, mane- 
like hair was thinned out now and faded, you could see inside and 
see the wheels and springs and cogs and ratchets working away 
and shining like a beautiful lot of well-kept mechanism. But maybe 
somebody had pushed the wrong button. Maybe it was just going 
to run on and on till something cracked or the spring ran down, 
and nothing was going to happen. 

But the Boss said something. He jerked his head sideways to in- 
dicate the silver tray with the bottle and the pitcher of water and 
a silver bowl and two used glasses and three or four clean ones 
which sat on the desk, and said, ‘‘Judge, I trust you don’t mind 
Jack pouring me a slug? You know, Southern hospitality.” 

Judge Irwin didn’t answer him. He turned to me, and said, “I 
didn’t realize. Jack, that your duties included those of a body 
servant, but, of course, if I am mistaken—” 

I could have slapped his face. I could have slapped that God- 
damned handsome, eagle-beaked, strong-boned, rubiginous-hided, 
high old face, in which the eyes weren’t old but were hard and 
bright without any depth to them and were an insult to look into. 
And the Boss laughed, and I could have slapped his God-damned 
face. I could have walked right out and left the two of them there, 
alone in that cheese-smelling room together till hell froze over, and 
just kept on walking. But I didn’t, and perhaps it was just as well, 
for maybe you cannot ever really walk away from the things you 
want most to walk away from. 

“Oh, nuts,” the Boss said, and stopped laughing, and heaved 
himself up out of the leather chair, and made a pass at the bottle 
and sloshed out some whisky into a glass and poured in some 
water. Then he turned round, and grinning up to the Judge, 
stepped toward me and held out the glass. “Here, Jack,” he said, 
“have a drink.” 

I can’t say that I took the drink. It got shoved into my hand, and 
I stood there holding it, not drinking it, and watched the Boss look 
up at Judge Irwin and say, “Sometimes Jack pours me a drink, and 
sometimes I pour him a drink and—” he stepped toward the desk 
again— “sometimes I pour myself a drink.” 

He poured the drink, added water, and looked again at the 
Judge, leering with a kind of comic cunning. “Whether I’m asked 
or not,” he said. And added, “There’s lots of things you never get. 
Judge, if you wait till you are asked. And I am an impatient man! 
I am a very impatient man. Judge. That is why I am not a gentle- 
man, Judge.” 


48 



“Really?*’ replied the Judge. He stood in the middle of the floor 
and studied the scene beneath him. 

From my spot by the wall, I looked at both of them. To hell with 
them, 1 thought, to hell with both of them. When they talked like 
that, it was to hell with both of them. 

“Yeah,” the Boss was saying, “you’re a gent, and so you don't ever 
get impatient. Not even "or your likker. You aren’t even impatient 
for your drink right now and it's likker your money paid for. But 
you’ll get a drink. Judge. I’m asking you to have one. Have a drink 
with me. Judge.” 

Judge Irwin didn’t answer a word. He stood very erect in the 
middle of the floor. 

“Aw, have a drink,” the Boss said, and laughed, and sat again 
in the big chair and stuck out his legs on the red carpet. 

The Judge didn’t pour himself a drink. And he didn’t sit down. 

The Boss looked up at him from the chair and said, “Judge, you 
happen to have an evening paper round here?” 

The paper was lying over on another chair by the fireplace, with 
the Judge’s collar and tie on top of it, and his white jacket hung on 
the back of the chair. I saw the Judge’s eyes snap over there to it, 
and then back at the Boss. 

“Yes,” the Judge said, “as a matter of fact, I have.” 

“I haven’t had a chance to see one, rushing round the country 
today. Mind if I take a look?” 

“Not in the slightest,” Judge Irwin said, and the ^sound was the 
flle scraping on that cold tin again, “but perhaps I can relieve your 
curiosity on one point. The paper publishes my endorsement of 
Callahan for the Senate nomination. If that is of interest to you.” 

“Just wanted to hear you say it. Judge. Somebody told me, but 
you know how rumor hath a thousand tongues, and how the news- 
paper boys tend to exaggeration, and the truth ain’t in ’em,” 

“There was no exaggeration in this case,*!, the Judge said. 

“Just wanted to hear you say it. With your own silver tongue.” 

“Well, you’ve heard it,” the Judge said, standing straight in the 
middle of the floor, “and in that case, at your leisure—” the Judge’s 
face was the color of calf’s liver again, even if the words did come 
out cold and spaced— “if you have finished your drink—” 

“Why, thanks, Judge,” the Boss said, sweet as cliess pie, “I reckon 
I will take another spot.” And he heaved himself in the direction 
of the bottle. 

He did his work, and said, “Thanks.” 

When he was back in the leather chair with the fresh load in the 
glass, he said, “Yeah, Judge, I’ve heard you say it, but I just wanted 

49 



to hear you say something else. Are you sure you took it to the Lord 
in prayer? Huh?'* 

“I have settled the matter in my own mind/’ the Judge said. 

“Well, if I recollect right—” the Boss ruminatively turned the 
glass in his hands— “back in town, when we had our little talk, you 
sort of felt my boy Masters was all right.” 

“I made no commitment,” the Judge said sharply. “I didn’t make 
any commitment except to my conscience.” 

“You been messing in politics a long time. Judge,” the Boss said, 
easy, “and—” he took a drag from the glass— “so has your con- 
science.” 

“I beg your pardon,” the Judge snapped. 

“Nuts,” the Boss said, and grinned, “But what got you off Mas* 
ters?” 

“Certain features of his career came to my attention.” 

“Somebody dug up some dirt for you, huh?” 

“If you choose to call it that,” the Judge said. 

“Dirt’s a funny thing,” the Boss said. “Come to think of it, there 
ain’t a thing but dirt on this green God’s globe except what’s under 
water, and that’s dirt too. It’s dirt makes the grass grow. A diamond 
ain’t a thing in the world but a piece of dirt that got awful hot. 
And God-a-Mighty picked up a handful of dirt and blew on it 
and made you and me and George Washington and mankind 
blessed in faculty and apprehension. It all depends on what you do 
with the dirt. That right?” 

“That doesn’t alter the fact,” the Judge said from way up there 
where his head was, above the rays of the desk lamp, “that Masters 
doesn’t strike me as a responsible man.” 

“He better be responsible,” the Boss said, “or I’ll break his God- 
damned neck!” 

“That’s the trouble. Masters would be responsible to you.” 

“It’s a fact,” the Boss admitted ruefully, lifting his face under 
the light, and shaking his head in fatalistic sadness. “Masters’d be 
responsible to me. I can’t help it. But Callahan— now take Callahan 
—it sort of seems to me he’s gonna be responsible to you and Alta 
Power and God knows who else before he’s through. And what’s the 
difference? Huh?” 

“Well-” 

“Well, hell!” The Boss popped straight up in the chair with that 
inner explosiveness he had when, all of a sudden, he would snatch 
a fly out of the air or whip his head at you and his eyes would snap 
open. He popped up and his heels dug into the red carpet. Some of 
the liquor sloshed out of his glass onto his Palm Beach pants. 

50 



“Well, ril tell you the difference, Judgel I can deliver Masters and 
you can’t deliver Callahan. And that’s a big difference.*’ 

“I’ll have to take my chance,” the Judge said from way up there. 

“Chance?” And the Boss laughed, “Judge,” he said, and quit 
laughing, “you haven’t got but one chance. You been guessing right 
in this state going on forty years. You been sitting back here in this 
room and nigger boys been single-footing in here bringing you 
toddies and you been guessing right. You been sitting back here 
and grinning to yourself while the rest of ’em were out sweating on 
the stump and snapping their suspenders, and when you wanted 
anything you just reached out and took it. Oh, if you had a little 
time off from duck hunting and corporation law you might do a 
hitch as Attorney General. So you did. Or play at being a judge. 
You been a judge a long time. How would it feel not to be a judge 
any more?” 

“No man,” Judge Irwin said, and stood up there straight m the 
middle of the floor, “has ever been able to intimidate me." 

“Well, I never tried,” the Boss said, “yet. And I’m not trying now. 
I’m going to give you a chance. You say somebody gave you some 
dirt on Masters? Well, just suppose I gave you some dirt on Calla- 
han?— Oh, don’t interrupt! Keep your shirt on!”— and he held up 
his hand. “I haven’t been doing any digging, but I might, and if 1 
went out in the barn lot and stuck my shovel in and brought you 
in some of the sweet-smelling and put it under the nose of your 
conscience, then do you know what your conscience would tell you 
to do? It would tell you to withdraw your endorsement of Calla* 
han. And the newspaper boys would be over here thicker’n blue^ 
bottle flies on a dead dog, and you could tell ’em all about you and 
your conscience. You wouldn’t even have to back Masters. You and 
your conscience could just go off arm in arm and have a fine time 
telling each other how much you think of each other.” 

“I have endorsed Callahan,” the Judge said. He didn’t flicker. 

“I maybe could give you the dirt,” the Boss said speculatively. 
“Callahan’s been playing round for a long time, and he who touches 
pitch shall be defiled, and little boys just will walk barefoot in the 
cow pasture.” He looked up at Judge Irwin’s face, squinting, study- 
ing it, cocking his own head to one side. 

The grandfather’s clock in the corner of the room, I suddenly 
realized, wasn’t getting any younger. It would drop out a tick, and 
the tick would land inside my head like a rock dropped in a well, 
and the ripples would circle out and stop, and tlie tick would sink 
down the dark. For a piece of time which was not long or short, and 
might not even be time, there wouldn’t be anything. Then the 

51 



lock would drop down the well, and the ripples would ciicle out 
and finish. 

The Boss quit studying Judge Irwin’s face, which didn’t show 
anything. He let himself sink back in the chair, shrugged his shoul- 
ders, and lifted the glass up for a drink. Then he said, “Suit your- 
self, Judge. But you know, there’s another way to play it. Maybe 
somebody might give Callahan a little shovelful on somebody else 
and Callahan might grow a conscience all of a sudden and repudi- 
ate his endorser. You know, when this conscience business starts, 
ain’t no telling where it’ll stop, and when you start the digging—’* 

“I’ll thank you, sir—” Judge Irwin took a step toward the big 
chair, and his face wasn’t the color of calf’s liver now— it was long 
past that and streaked white back from the base of the jutting nose 
—“I’ll thank you, sir, to get out of that chair ana get out of this 
housel” 

The Boss didn’t lift his head off the leather. He looked up at the 
Judge, sweet and trusting, and then cocked his eyes over to me* 
“Jack,” he said, “you were sure right. The Judge don’t scare easy.” 

“Get out,” the Judge said, not loud this time. 

“These old bones don’t move fast,” the Boss murmured sadly, 
**but now I have tried to do my bounden duty, let me go.” Then 
he drained his glass, set it on the floor beside the diair, and rose. 
He stood in front of the Judge, looking up at him, squinting again, 
cocking his head to one side again, like a farmer getting ready to 
Buy a horse. 

I set my glass on the shelf of the bookcase behind me. I discovered 
that I hadn’t touched it, not since the first sip. Well, to hell with it, 
I thought, and let it stand. Some nigger boy would get it in the 
morning. 

Then, as though he had decided against buying the horse, the 
Boss shook his head and passed around the Judge, as though the 
Judge weren’t a man at all, or even a horse, as though he were the 
corner of a house or a tree, and headed for the hall door, putting 
his feet down slow and easy on the red carpet. No hurry. 

For a second or two the Judge didn’t even move his head; then 
he swung round and watched the Boss going toward the door, and 
his eyes glittered up there in the shadow above the lamp. 

The Boss laid his hand on the doorknob, opened the door, and 
then, with his hand still on the knob, he looked back. “Well, 
Judge,” he said, “more in pain than wrath I go. And if your con- 
science decides it could gag at Callahan, just let me know. In, of 
course—” and he grinned— “a reasonable time.” 

52 



Then he looked over at me and said, “Let's haul ass. Jack/* and 
started on down toward the front door, out of sight. 

Before I could get into low gear, the Judge swung his face in my 
direction, and focused his eyes on me, and his upper lip lifted un- 
der that nose to form a smile of somewhat massive irony, and he 
said, “Your employer is calling you, Mr. Burden.” 

“I don’t use any ear trumpet yet,” I said, and pulled off toward 
the door, and thought to myself: Christy Jack^ you talk like a snot, 
Christ, you are a smart guy. 

I had just about made the door, when he said, “I’m dining with 
your mother this week. Shall I tell her you still like your work?” 

Why won*t he lay off? 1 thought, but he wouldn’t, and that lip 
lifted up again. 

So I said, “Suit yourself. Judge. But if I were you I wouldn't go 
around advertising this visit to anybody. In case you changed your 
mind, somebody might figure you had stooped to a low political 
deal with the Boss. In the dark of night.” 

And I went out the door and down the hall and out the hall door 
and left it open but let the screen door slam. 

God damn him, why hadn't he laid off me? 

But he hadn't scared. 

We left the bay, and lost the salt, sad, sweet, fishy smell of the 
tidelands out of our nostrils. We headed north again. It was darker 
now. The ground mist lay heavier on the fields, and in the dips of 
the road the mist frayed out over the slab and blunted the head- 
lights. Now and then a pair of eyes would burn at us out of the 
dark ahead. I knew that they were the eyes of a cow— a poor dear 
stoic old cow with a cud, standing on the highway shoulder, for 
there wasn’t any stock law— but her eyes burned at us out of the 
dark as though her skull were full of blazing molten metal like 
blood and we could see inside the skull into that bloody hot bright- 
ness in that moment when the reflection was right before we picked 
up her shape, which is so perfectly formed to be pelted with clods, 
and knew what she was and knew that inside that unlovely knotty 
head there wasn’t anything but a handful of coldly coagulated gray 
mess in which something slow happened as we went by. We were 
something slow happening inside the cold brain of a cow. That's 
what the cow would say if she were a brass-bound Idealist like little 
Jackie Burden. 

The Boss said, “Well, Jackie, it looks like you got a job cut out 
for you.” 

And I said, “Callahan?” 


53 



And he said, *‘Nope, Irwin/* 

And I said, “I don’t reckon you will find anything on Irwin/* 

And he said, “You find it/’ 

We bored on into the dark for another twenty miles and eighteen 
minutes. The ectoplasmic fingers of the mist reached out of the 
swamp, threading out from the blackness of the cypresses, to snag 
us, but didn’t have any luck. A possum came out of the swamp and 
started across the road and might have made it, too, if Sugar-Boy 
hadn’t been too quick for him. Sugar-Boy just shaded the steering 
wheel delicately to the left, just a fraction. There wasn’t even a 
jounce or twitch, but something thumped against the underside of 
the left front fender, and Sugar-Boy said, “The b-b-b-b-bas-md/’ 
Sugar-Boy could thread a needle with that Cadillac. 

At about the -end of that eighteen minutes and twenty miles, I 
said: “But suppose I don’t find anything before election day?’’ 

The Boss said, “To hell with election day. I can deliver Masters 
prepaid, special handling. But if it takes ten years, you find it.’’ 

We clocked off five miles more, and I said, “But suppose there 
isn’t anything to find?” 

And the Boss said, “There is always something.” 

And I said, “Maybe not on the Judge.” 

And he said, “Man is conceived in sin and bom in corruption 
and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the 
shroud. There is always something.” 

Two miles more, and he said, “And make it stick.” 

And that was all a good while ago. And Masters is dead now, as 
dead as a mackerel, but the Boss was right and he went to the 
Senate. And Callahan is not dead but he has wished he were, no 
doubt, for he used up his luck a long time back and being dead was 
not part of it. And Adam Stanton is dead now, too, who used to 
go fishing with me and who lay on the sand in the hot sunshine 
with me and with Anne Stanton. And Judge Irwin is dead, who 
leaned toward me among the stems of the tall gray marsh grass, in 
the gray damp wintry dawn, and said, “You ought to have led that 
duck more. Jack. You got to lead a duck, son,” And the Boss is 
dead, who said to me, “And make it stick.” 

Little Jackie made it stick, all right. 


54 



Chapter Two 


THE LAST time I saw Mason City I went up there in that big black 
Cadillac with tlie Boss and the gang, and we burned up that new- 
concrete slab, and it was a long time ago— nearly three years, for it 
is now into 1939, but it seems like forever. But the first time I went 
up there it was a lot longer time ago, back in 1922, and I went up 
there in my Model-T, hanging on to the steering post to stay in the 
saddle when I sideslipped in the gray dust, which plumed out be- 
hind for a mile and settled on the cotton leaves to make them gray 
too, or when I hit a section of gravel, holding my jaws clamped 
tight to keep the vibration from the washboard from chipping the 
enamel off my teeth. You’ll have to say this for the Boss: when he got 
through you could drive out for a breath of air and still keep your 
bridgework in place. But you couldn’t that first time I went to 
Mason City. 

The managing editor of the Chronicle called me in and said, 
“Jack, get in your car and go up to Mason City and see who the 
hell that fellow Stark is who thinks he is Jesus Christ scourging the 
money-changers out of that sh inplaster courthouse up there.” 

“He married a school-teacher,” I said. 

“Well, it must have gone to his head,” Jim Madison, who was 
managing editor of the Chronicle, said. “Does he think he is the 
first one ever popped a school-teacher?” 

“The bond issue was for building a schoolhouse,” I said, “and 
it looks like Lucy figures they might keep some of it for that pur- 
pose.” 

“Who the hell is Lucy?” 

“Lucy is the school-teacher,” I said. 

“She won’t be a school-teacher long,” he said. “Not on the Mason 
County payroll if she keeps that up. Not if I know Mason County.” 

“Lucy don’t favor drinking either,” I said. 

“Was it you or the other guy popped Lucy?” he demanded. “You 
know so much about Lucy.” 


5.5 



*'I just know what Willie told me/' 

'Who the hell is Willie?'* 

'Willie is the fellow with the Christmas tie/' I said, “He is 
Cousin Willie from the country. He is Willie Stark, the teacher's 
pet, and I met him in the back room of Slade's place a couple of 
months ago and he told me Lucy didn’t favor drinking. I'm just 
guessing about her not favoring stealing." 

“She don't favor Willie being County Treasurer either,” Jim 
Madison allowed, “if she is the one putting him up to what he is 
doing. Doesn't she know how they run things up in Mason 
County?" 

“They run 'em up there just like they run 'em down here,” I 
said. 

“Yeah,” Jim Madison said, and took the foul, chewed, and spit- 
bright butt of what had been a two-bit cigar out of the comer of 
his mouth and inspected it and reached out at arm's length and let 
it fall into the big brass spittoon which stood on the clover-deep, 
Kelly-green carpet which bloomed like an oasis of elegance in the 
(our floors of squalor of the Chronicle Building. He watched it fall, 
and said again, “Yeah, but you leave down here and go on up 
there.” 

So I went up to Mason City in the Model-T, and kept my jaws 
clamped tight when I went over the washboard and hung to the 
steering post when I went over the sideslipping dust, and that was 
a very long time ago. 

I got to Mason City early in the afternoon and went to the 
Mason City Cafe, Home-Cooked Meals for Ladies and Gents, facing 
the square, and sampled the mashed potatoes and fried ham and 
greens with pot-likker with one hand while with the other I com- 
peted with seven or eight flies for the possession of a piece of cus- 
tard pie. 

I went out into the street, where the dogs lay on the shady side 
under the corrugated iron awnings, and walked down the block till 
I came to the harness shop. There was one vacant seat out front, so 
I said howdy-do, and joined the club. I was the junior member by 
forty years, but I thought I was going to have liver spots on my 
swollen old hands crooked on the head of the hickory stick like the 
rest of them before anybody was going to say anything. In a town 
like Mason City the bench in front of the harness shop is— or was 
twenty years ago before the concrete slab got laid down— the place 
where Time gets tangled in its own feet and lies down like an old 
hound and gives up the struggle. It is a place where you sit down 
and wait for night to come and arteriosclerosis. It is the place the 

56 



local undertaker looks at with confidence and thinks he is not 
going to starve as long as that much work is cut out for him. But 
if you are sitting on the bench in the middle of the afternoon in 
late August with the old ones, it does not seem that anything will 
ever come, not even your own funeral, and the sun beats down and 
the shadows don't move across the bright dust, which, if you stare 
at it long enough, seems to be full of glittering specks like quartz. 
The old ones sit there with their liver-spotted hands crooked on 
the hickory sticks, and they emit a kind of metaphysical effluvium 
by virtue of which your categories are altered. Time and motion 
cease to be. It is like sniffing ether, and everything is sweet and sad 
and far away. You sit there among, the elder gods, disturbed by no 
sound except the slight rale of the one who has asthma, and wait 
for them to lean from the Olympian and sunlit detachment and 
comment, with their unenvious and foreknowing irony, on- the 
goings-on of the folks who are still snared in the toils of mortal 
compulsions. I seen Sim Saunders done built him a new bam. 
Then, Yeah, some folks thinks they is made of money. And, Yeah. 

So I sat there and waited. And one of them said it, and another 
one leaned and shifted the quid and answered, and the last one 
said, “Yeah." Then I waited again for a spell, for I knew my place 
in the picture, and then I said, “They tell me there’s gonna be a 
new schoolhouse." Then I waited another spell while the words 
died away and it was as though I hadn’t said anything. Then one 
of them let the ambeer drop to the dry ground, and touched the 
spot with the end of the hidkory stick, and said, “Yeah, and steam 
heat, hear tell." 

And Number Two: “Give them young 'uns pneumony, steam 
heat." 

And Number Three: “Yeah." 

And Number Four: “If’n they git hit built." 

I looked across the square at the painted clock face on the courb 
house tower^ which was the clock the old ones kept time by, and 
waited. Then J said, “What’s stopping ’em?" 

And Number One: “Stark. Thet Stark." 

And Number Two: “Yeah, thet Willie Stark." 

And Number Three: “Too big fer his britches. Gits in the court- 
house and gits his front feet in the trough, and gits too big fer his 
britches." 

And Number Four: “Yeah." 

I waited, then I said, “Wants ’em to take the low bid, they tell 
me." 


57 



And Number One: “Yeah, wants 'em to take the low bid and 
git a passel of niggers in here.” 

And Number Two: “To put white folks out of work. Builden 
hit.” 

And Number Three: “You want to work longside a nigger? And 
specially him a strange nigger? Builden schoolhouse or backhouse, 
how so be hit?” 

And Number Four: “And white folks needen work.” 

And Number One: “Yeah.” 

Yeah, I said to myself, so that is the tale, for Mason County is 
red-neck country and they don't like niggers, not strange niggers 
anyway, and they haven’t got many of their own. “How much 
could they save,” I asked, “taking the low bid?” 

And Number One: “Couldn’t save enuff to pay fer bringen no 
passel of niggers in here.” 

“Putten white folks out of work,” Number Two said. 

I waited till it was decent, then I got up and said, “Got to be 
moving. Good afternoon' gentlemen.” 

One of the old ones looked up at me as though I had just come, 
and said, “What you work at, boy?” 

“I don't,” I said. 

“Porely?” he asked. 

“Not porely,” I said. “It is just I lack ambition.” 

Which was God’s truth, I reckoned, as I walked on down the 
street. 

I reckoned, too, that I had killed enough time and I might as 
well go on to the courthouse and get my story in the way I was sup- 
posed to get it. All this sitting around in front of harness shops was 
not the way any newspaperman would go about getting his story. 
There isn’t ever anything you get that way which you can put into 
a newspaper. So I went on over to the courthouse. 

Inside the courthouse, where the big hall was empty and shadowy 
and the black oily floor was worn down to humps and ridges under 
your feet and the air was dry and dusty so that you felt in the still- 
ness that you were breathing into yourself the last shrunk-up whis- 
pers still hanging in the air from all the talk, loud and little, there 
had been in there for seventy-five years— well, inside there, just off 
the hall I saw some men sitting in a room. Above the doorway there 
was a tin sign with the letters about faded off. But they still said 
Sheriff. 

I went into the room where the three men were cocked back in 
split-bottom chairs and an electric fan set on top of the roll-top 
desk was burring away with little effect, and said howdy-do to the 

58 



faces. The biggest face, -which was round and red and had its feet 
cocked on the desk and its hands laid on its stomach, said howdy-do. 

I took a card out of my pocket and gave it to him. He looked at 
the card for a minute, holding it off near arm’s length as though 
he were afraid it would spit in his eye, then he turned it over and 
looked at the back side a minute till he was dead sure it was blank. 
Then he laid the hand with the card in it back down on his 
stomach, where it belonged, and looked at me. ‘You done come a 
piece,” he said. 

“That’s right,” I said. 

“What you come fer?” 

“To see what’s going on about the schoolhouse,” I said. 

“You come a piece,” he said, “to stick yore nose in somebody 
else’s bizness.” 

“That’s right,” I agreed cheerfully, “but my boss on the paper 
can’t see it that way.” 

“It ain’t any of his bizness either.” 

“No,” I said, “but what’s the ruckus about, now I've come all 
that piece?” 

“It ain’t any of my bizness. I’m the Sheriff.” 

“Well, Sheriff,” I said, “whose business is it?” 

“Them as is tending to it. If folks would quit messen and let 
*em.” 

“Wlio is themr 

“Commissioners,” the Sheriff said. “The County Commissioners, 
the voters of Mason County done elected to tend to their bizness 
and not take no butten-in from nobody.” 

“Yeah, sure— the Commissioners. But who are they?” 

The Sheriff’s little wise eyes blinked at me a couple of times, then 
he said, “The constable ought to lock you up fer vagruncy.” 

“Suits me,” I said. “And the Chronicle would send up another 
boy to cover my case, and when the constable pinched him the 
Chronicle would send up another one to cover that case, and after 
a while you’d get us all locked up. But it might get in the papers.” 

The Sheriff just lay there, and out of his big round face his little 
eyes blinked. Maybe I hadn’t said anything. Maybe 1 wasn’t there. 

“Who are the Commissioners?” I said. “Or maybe they are hid- 
ing out?” 

“One of 'em is setten right there,” the Sheriff said, and rolled his 
big round head on his shoulders to indicate one of the other fel- 
lows. When the head had fallen back into place, and his fingers 
had let go my card, which wafted down to the floor in the gentle 
breeze from the fan, the little eyes blinked again and he seemed to 

59 



sink below the surface of the roiled waters. He had done his best 
and now he had passed the ball. 

“Are you a Commissioner?” I asked the fellow just indicated. He 
was just another fellow, made in God’s image and wearing a white 
shirt with a ready-tied black bow tie and jean pants held up with 
web galluses. Town from the waist up, country /from the waist 
down. Get both votes. 

“Yeah,” he said. 

“He’s the head man,” another fellow said, revei^ently, a little old 
squirt of a fellow wdth a bald knotty old head and a face he him- 
self couldn’t recollect from one time he looked in the mirror to the 
next, the sort of a fellow who hangs around and sits in a chair when 
the big boys leave one vacant and tries to buy his way into the game 
with a remark like the one he had just made. 

“You the Chairman?” I asked the other fellow, 

“Yeah,” he said. 

“You mind telling me your name?” 

“It ain’t no secret,” he said. “It is Dolph Pillsbury.” 

“Glad to know you, Mr. Pillsbury,” I said and held out my hand. 
Not getting up, he took it as though I had offered him the business 
end of a cottonmouth moccasin in shedding time. 

“Mr. Pillsbury,” I said, “you are in a position to know the situa- 
tion in regard to the schoolhouse contract. No doubt you are in 
terested in having the truth of that situation made public.” 

“There ain’t any situation,” Mr. Pillsbury said. 

“Maybe there isn’t any situation,” I said, “but there’s been a 
right smart racket.” 

“Ain’t any situation. Board meets and takes a bid what’s been 
offered. J. H. Moore’s bid, the fellow’s name.” 

“Was that fellow Moore’s bid low?” 

“Not egg-zackly,” 

“You mean it wasn’t low?” 

“Well—” Mr. Pillsbury said, and his face was shadowed by an ex^ 
pression which might have been caused by a gas pain, “well, if’n 
you want to put it that a-way.” 

“All right,” I said, “let’s put it that way.” 

“Now look a-here— ” and the shadow passed from Mr. Pillsbury’s 
face and he sat up in his chair as suddenly as though he had been 
stuck by a pin— “you talk like that, and ain’t nuthen done but 
legal. Ain’t nobody can tell the Board what bid to take. Anybody 
can come along and put in a little piss-ant bid, but the Board doan 
have to take it. Naw-sir-ee. The Board takes somebody kin do the 
work right.” 


60 



^‘Who was it put the little piss-ant bid in?” 

“Name of Jeffers/' Mr. Pillsbury said peevishly, as at an un- 
pleasant recollection. 

“Jeffers Construction?” I asked. 

“Yeah.” 

“What's wrong with Jeffers Construction?” 

“The Board picks the fellow kin do the work right, and it ain't 
nobody's bimess,” 

I took out my pencil and a pad of paper, and wrote on it. Then 
I said to Mr. Pillsbury, “How’s this?” And I began to read to him: 
“Mr. Dolph Pillsbury, Chairman of the Board of County Commis- 
sioners of Mason County, stated that the bid of J. H. Moore for the 
construction of the Mason County School was accepted, even 
though it was not the low bid, because the Board wanted somebody 
‘who could do the work right,' The low bid, which was submitted 
by the Jeffers Construction Company, was rejected, Mr. Pillsbury 
stated. Mr. Pillsbury stated further—” 

“Now look a-here— ” Mr. Pillsbury was sitting very straight up as 
though it were not a pin this time but a hot tenpenny and in the 
brown— “now look a-here, I didn’t state nuthen. You write it down 
and claim I stated it. Now you look a-here—’' 

The Sheriff heaved massively in the chair and fixed his gaze upon 
Mr. Pillsbury. “Dolph,” he said, “tell the bugger to git out of here." 

“I didn’t state nuthen,” Dolph said, “and you git out!” 

“Sure,” I said, and put the pad in my pocket, “but maybe you 
can kindly tell me where Mr. Stark is?” 

“I knowed it,” the Sheriff exploded and dropped his feet off the 
desk with a noise like a brick chimney falling, and heaved up in 
the chair and glared apoplectically at me. “That Stark, I knowed it 
was that Stark!” 

“What’s wrong with Stark?” I asked. 

“Jesus Gawd!” roared the Sheriff, and his face went purple with 
the congestion of language which couldn't get out. 

“He’s biggety, that’s what he is,” Mr. Dolph Pillsbury offered. 
“Gits in the courthouse and gits biggety, he—” 

“He's a nigger-lover,” the litde old bald, knotty-headed fellow 
submitted. 

“And him, him—” Mr. Pillsbury pointed at me with an air of 
revelation— “I bet he's a nigger-lover, comen up here and sashayen 
round, I bet he—” 

“No sale,” I said. “I like mine vanilla. But now you've raised the 
subject, what's nigger-loving got to do with it?” 

61 



“That’s it!” Mr. Pillsbury exclaimed, like the man overboard 
seizing the plank. “That Jeffers Construction now, they—” 

“You, Doiph,” the Sheriff bellowed at him, “why don't you shut 
up and tell him to git out!” 

“Git out,” Mr. Pillsbury said to me, obediently but without great 
vigor. 

“Sure,” I replied, and went out ^nd walked down the hall. 

They ain't real, 1 thought as I walked down the hall, nary one. 
But I knew they were. You come into a strange place, into a town 
like Mason City, and they don’t seem real, but you know they are. 
You know they went wading in the creek when* they were kids, and 
when they were bigger they used to’ go out about sunset and lean 
on the back fence and look across the country at the sky and not 
know what was happening inside them or whether they were happy 
or sad, and when they got grown they slept with their wives and 
tickled their babies to make them laugh and went to work in the 
morning and didn’t know what they w^anted but had their reasons 
for doing things and wanted to do good things, because they always 
gave good reasons for the things they did, and then when they got 
old they lost their reasons for doing anything and sat on the bench 
in front of the harness shop and had words for the reasons other 
people had but had forgotten what the reasons were. And then they 
will lie in bed some morning just before day and look up at the 
ceiling they can scarcely see because the lamp is shaded with a 
pinned-on newspaper and they don’t recognize the faces around the 
bed any more because the room is full of smoke, or fog, and it 
makes their eyes burn and gets in tlie throat. Oh, they are real, all 
right, and it may be the reason they don’t seem real to you is that 
you aren’t very real yourself. 

But by that time I was standing in front of a door at one end of 
the cross hall and was looking up at another tin sign, and knew 
from it that I had aj'rived at the one-man leper colony of Mason 
City. 

The leper was sitting in the room, not doing anything, all by 
himself. There wasn’t anybody to sit and spit and jaw with him 
under his electric fan. 

“Hello,” I said, and he looked up at me as though I were a spook 
and the word I had used were in a foreign language. He didn’t 
answer me right off, and I figured he was like one of those fellows 
who gets marooned on a desert island for twenty years and when 
the longboat is beached and the jolly tars leap out on the sand and 
ask him who the hell he is, he can’t say a word because his tongue 
is so rusty. 


62 



Well, Willie wasn’t that bad off, for he finally managed to say 
hello, and that he remembered me from our meeting in Slade’s 
place a few months back, and to ask me what I wanted. I told him, 
and he grinned a grin more wistful than happy and asked me why 
I wanted to know. 

“The editor told me to find out,” I said, “and why he wants me 
to find out only God knows. Maybe it is because it is news.” 

That seemed to be enough to satisfy him. 'So T didn't tell him 
that beyond my boss the managing editor there was a great high 
world of reasons but to a fellow like me down in the ditch it was 
a world of flickering diaphanous spirit wings and faint angel voices 
I didn’t always savvy and stellar influences. 

“I reckon it is news,” Willie allowed. 

“What’s been going on around here?” 

“I don’t mind telling you,” he said. He began telling me and he 
finished telling me about eleven o’clock that night with Lucy Stark, 
after she had put the kid to bed, and me sitting with him in the 
parlor out at his pappy’s place, where he had asked me to spend the 
night, and where he and Lucy ordinarily lived in the summer and 
where they were going to live that winter too instead of in a room 
in town because Lucy had just been fired from her teaching job for 
the coming year and there wasn’t any reason to be in town and be 
spending good money for rent. And there was very likely to be an- 
other reason for there not being any reason to stay in town, for 
Willie was coming up for re-election and his chances looked about 
as good as the chances of a flea making a living off a carved marble 
lion on a monument. He had only got the job in the first place, he 
told me, because Dolph Pillsbury, the Chairman of the Board of 
County Commissioners, was a sort of secondhand relative of old 
Mr. Stark, by marriage or something, and Pillsbury had had a fall- 
ing-out with the other fellow who wanted to be Treasurer. Pills- 
bury about ran the county, he and the Sheriff, and he was sick of 
Willie. So Willie was on his way out, and Lucy was already out. 

“And I don’t care if I am,” Lucy Stark said, sitting there in the 
parlor, sewing by the lamp on the table where the big Bible and 
the plush-bound album were. “I don't care a bit if they won’t let 
me teach any more. I taught six years, counting that term I was out 
and having little Tommie, and nobody ever said I wasn’t all right, 
but now they write me a letter and say there’re complaints about 
my work and I don’t show a spirit of co-operation.” 

She lifted her sewing and bit off the thread in the way women 
do to make your flesh crawl. When she leaned over, the light hit 
her hair to show up the auburn luster lurking in the brown which 

63 



the operator of tlie recently established Mason City Beauty Shoppe 
hadn’t been entirely able to burn out with the curling tongs when 
she gave the marcel treatment. It was too bad about Lucy’s hair, 
even if the luster was still there. She was still girlish tlien, about 
twenty-five but not looking it, with a nice little waist coming 
straight up out of the satisfactory and unmeager hips and a nice 
little pair of ankles crossed in front of the chair, and her face was 
girlish, with soft, soothing contours and large deep-brown eyes, the 
kind that makes you diink of telling secrets in the gloaming over 
a garden gate when the lilacs are in bloom along the picket fence of 
the old homestead. But her hair was cut off at about neck level and 
marcelled the way dtey did it back then, which was a shame because 
the face she had was the kind that demanded to be framed by a 
wealth of long and lustrous-dusky tresses tangled on the snow- 
white pillow. She must have had plenty of hair, too, before the 
massacre. 

“But I don’t care,” she said, and lifted her head out of the light. 
“I don’t want to teach in a schoolhouse they build just so somebody 
can steal some money. And Willie doesn’t want to be Treasurer 
either, if he has to associate with those dishonest people.” 

“I’m going to run,” Willie said glumly. “They can’t keep me 
from running.” 

“You can give a lot more time to studying your law books,” she 
said to him, “when you aren’t in town all the time.” 

“I’m going to run,” he repeated, and jerked his head with that 
sharp motion he had to get the lock of hair out of his eyes. “I’m 
going to run,” he repeated again, as though he .weren’t talking to 
Lucy, or to me, but to the wide sweet air or God-Almighty, “if 
I don’t get a single God-damned vote.” 

Well, he did run when the time came, and he got more than one 
vote, but not many more, and Mr. Dolph Pillsbury and his pals 
won that round. The fellow who was elected against Willie that 
fall didn’t hang his hat up in the office before he had signed the 
check for the advance payment to J, H. Moore, and J. H. Moore 
built the schoolhouse. But tliat is getting ahead of the story. 

The story, as Willie told it, was this: The Jeffers Construction 
Company had low bid at one hundred and forty-two thousand. But 
there were two more bids in between the Jeffers bid and the Moore 
bid, which was one hundred and sixty-five thousand and a lot of 
nickels and dimes. But when Willie kicked about the Moore busi- 
ness, Pillsbury started the nigger business. Jeffers was a big-time 
contractor, from the south of the state, and he used a lot of Negro 
bricklayers and plasterers and carpenters in some of his crews. Pills- 

64 



bury started howling that Jeffers would bring in a lot of Negroes— 
and Mason County, as I said, is red-neck country— and worse, some 
of the Negroes would be getting better pay, being skilled laborers, 
than the men he would pick up around Mason City for some of the 
work. Piilsbury kept the pot boiling. 

He kept it boiling so well that the public overlooked the fact that 
there were two bids in between Jeffers and Moore and the fact that 
Piilsbury had a brother-in-law who had a brickkiln in which Moore 
had an interest and that in the not distant past a lot of the bricks 
had been declared rotten by the building inspector on a state job 
and had been refused and there had been a lawsuit and that as sure 
as God made little green apples with worms in them, bricks from 
that same kiln would be used in the schoolhouse. The kiln owned 
by Moore and Pillsbury*s brother-in-law used convict labor from 
the state pen and got it cheap, for the brother-in-law had some tie 
well up in the system. In fact, as I picked up later, the tie was so 
good that that building inspector who squawked about the bricks 
on the state job got thrown out, but I never knew whether he was 
honest or just ill-informed. 

Willie didn’t have any luck bucking Piilsbury and the Sheriff. 
There was an anti-Pillsbury faction, but it didn’t amount to much, 
and Willie didn’t add to its numbers. Willie went out and button- 
holed folks on the street and tried to explain things to them. You 
could see Willie standing on a street corner, sweating through his 
seersucker suit, with his hair down in his eyes, holding an old en- 
velope in one hand and a pencil in the other, working out figures 
to explain what he was squawking about, but folks don’t listen to 
you when your voice is low and patient and you stop them in the 
hot sun and make them do arithmetic. Willie tried to get the Mason 
County Messenger to print something, but they wouldn't. Then he 
wrote up a long statement of the case as he saw it about the bids, 
and tried to get the Messenger to print it on handbills in their job- 
printing shop, paid for, but they wouldn’t do it. So Willie had to 
go to the city to get the work done. He came back with his hand- 
bills and hired a couple of kids to tote them from house to house 
in town. But the folks of one of the kids made him stop as soon as 
they found out, and when the other kid didn’t stop, some big boys 
beat him up. 

So Willie toted them around himself, over town, from house to 
house, carrying them in an old satchel, the kind school kids use, 
and knocked on the door and then tipped his hat when the lady of 
the house came. But most of the time she didn’t come. There’d be 
a rustle of a window shade inside, but nobody would come. So 

65 



Willie would stick a handbill under the door and go to the next 
place. When he had worked out Mason City, he went over to Tyree, 
the other town in the county, and passed out his bills the same way, 
and then he called on the crossroads settlements. 

He didn't dent the constituency. The other fellow was elected. 
J. H. Moore built the schoolhouse, which began to need repairs be- 
fore the paint was dry. Willie was out of a job. Pillsbury and his 
jfriends, no doubt, picked up some nice change as kickback from 
J. H. Moore, and forgot about the whole business. At least they 
forgot about it for about three years, when their bad luck started. 

Meanwhile Willie was back on Pappy's farm, helping with the 
chores, and peddling a patent Fix-It Household Kit around the 
country to pick up a little change, working from door to door again, 
going from settlement to settlement in his old car, and stopping at 
the farnohouses in between, knocking on the door and tipping his 
hat and then showing the woman how to fix a pot. And at night he 
was plugging away at his books, getting ready for the bar examina- 
tion. But before that came to pass Willie and Lucy and I sat there 
that night in the parlor, and Willie said: ‘‘They tried to run it over 
me. They just figured I’d do anything they told me, and they tried 
to run it over me like I was dirt." 

And laying her sewing down in her lap, Lucy said, “Now, honey, 
you didn't want to be mixed up with them anyway. Not after you 
found out they were dishonest and crooked." 

“They tried to run it over me," he repeated, sullenly, twisting his 
heavy body in the chair. “Like I was dirt." 

“Willie,” she said, leaning toward him a little, “they would have 
been crooks even if they didn’t try to run it over you." 

He wasn't paying her much mind. 

“They’d be crooks, wouldn't they?" she asked in a tone which 
was a little bit like the patient, leading-them-on tone she must have 
used in the schoolroom. She kept watching his face, which seemed 
to be pulling back from her and from me and the room, as though 
he weren't really hearing her voice but were listening to another 
voice, a signal maybe, outside the house, in the dark beyond the 
screen of the open window. 

“Wouldn't they?” she asked him, pulling him back into the room, 
into the circle of soft light from the lamp on the table, where the 
big Bible and the plush-bound album lay. The bowl of the lamp 
was china and had a spray of violets painted on it. 

“Wouldn't they?” she asked him, and before he answered I caught 
myself listening to the dry, compulsive, half-witted sound the crick- 
ets were making out in the grass in the dark. 

66 



Then he said, '‘Yeah, yeah, they'd be crooks, all right," and 
heaved himself in the chair with the motion of one who is irritated 
at having a, train of thought interrupted. 

Then he sank back into whatever he was brooding over. 

Lucy looked at me with a confident birdlike lift of her head, as 
though she had proved something to me. The secondary glow of 
the light above the circle of light was on her face, and if I had 
wanted to I could have guessed that some of that glow was given 
off softly by her face as though the flesh had a delicate and unflag- 
ging and serene phosphorescence from its own inwardness. 

Well, Lucy was a woman, and therefore she must have been won- 
derful in the way women are wonderful She turned her face to me 
with that expression which seemed to say, “See, I told you, that's 
the way it is," and meanwhile Willie sat there. But his own face 
seemed to be pulling off again into the distance which was not dis- 
tance but which was, shall I say, simply himself. 

Lucy was sewing now, and talking to me while looking down at 
the cloth, and after a little Willie got up and started to walk up 
and down the room, with his forelock coming down over his eyes. 
He kept on pacing back and forth while Lucy and I talked. 

It wasn't very soothing to have that going on across one end of 
the room. 

Finally, Lucy looked up from her sewing, and said, “Honey—" 

Willie stopped pacing and swung his head at her with the fore- 
lock down over his eyes to give him the look of a mean horse when 
he's cornered in the angle of the pasture fence with his head down 
a little and the mane shagged forward between the ears, and the 
eyes both wild and shrewd, watching you step up with the bridle, 
and getting ready to bolt. 

“Sit down, honey," Lucy said, “you make me nervous. You're just 
like Tommie, you can't ever sit still" Then she laughed, and with 
a sort of shamefaced grin on his face he came over and sat down. 

She was a fine woman, and he was lucky to have her. 

But he was also lucky to have the -Sheriff and Dolph Pillsbury, 
for they w^ere doing him a favor and not knowing it. He didn't 
seem to know it either at the time, that they were his luck. But per- 
haps the essential part of him was knowing it all the time, only 
word hadn't quite got around to the other and accidental parts of 
him. Or it is possible that fellows like Willie Stark are bom outside 
of luck, good or bad, and luck, which is what about makes you and 
me what we are, doesn't have anything to do with them, for they 
are what they are from the time they first kick in the womb until 
the end. And if that is the case, then their life history is a process 

67 



of discovering what they really are, and not, as for you and me, 
sons of luck, a process of becoming what luck makes us. And if that 
is the case, then Lucy wasn't Willie's luck. Or his unluck either. 
She was part of the climate in which the process of discovering the 
real Willie was taking place. 

But, speaking vulgarly, the Sheriff and Pillsbury were part of 
Willie's luck. I didn’t know it that night in Pappy's parlor, and I 
didn't know it when I got back to town and gave Jim Madison my 
tale. Well, Willie began to appear in the Chronicle in the role of 
the boy upon the burning deck and the boy who put his finger in 
the dike and the boy who replies "I can” when Duty whispers low 
‘‘Thou must.” The Chronicle was turning up more and more tales 
about finagling in county courthouses around the state. It pointed 
the finger of fine scorn and reprobation all over the map. Then I 
began to grasp the significance of what was going on in that world 
of reasons high above the desk of Jim Madison, and caught the 
glint of those diaphanous spirit wings and the fluting whispers of 
the faint angel voices up there. In brief, this: The happy harmony 
in the state machine was a thing of the past, and the Chronicle was 
lined up with the soreheads, and was hacking away at the county 
substructure of the machine. It was starting there, feeling its way, 
setting the stage and preparing the back-drop for the real show. It 
wasn’t as hard as it might have been. Ordinarily the country boys 
in the county courthouses have plenty of savvy and know all the 
tricks and are plenty hard to pin anything on, but the machine had 
been operating so long now without serious opposition that ease 
had corrupted them. They just didn't bother to be careful. So the 
Chronicle was making a good show. 

But Mason County was Exhibit Number One. On account of 
Willie, He gave the touch of drama to the sordid tale. He became 
symbolically the spokesman for the tongue-tied population of 
honest men. And when Willie was licked at the polls of Mason 
County, the Chronicle ran his picture, and under it the line keeps 
HIS FAITH. And under that they printed the statement which Willie 
had given to me when I went back up to Mason City after the elec- 
tion and after Willie was out. The statement went like this: 

“Sure, they did it and it was a clean job which I admire. I am 
going back to Pappy's farm and milk the cows and study some more 
law for it looks like I am going to need it. But I have kept my faith 
in the people of Mason County. Time will bring all things to 
Hght.'^ 

I had gone up there to see what he had to say, but didn't have to 
go out to the farm. I ran into Willie on the street. He had been 

68 



building some fence and had busted his wire stretcher and had 
come in to town to get a new one. He was wearing an old black 
felt hat and overalls which hung down around his can as though he 
were little Droopy-Drawers smiling up from the play pen. 

We went to the drugstore and had a coke. We stood in front of 
the soda fountain and I put my pad in front of Willie by his old 
hat and gave him a pencil. He licked the point and his eyes glazed 
as though he were getting ready to do sums on his slate, and then 
leaning up against the marble, with his overalls drooping, he wrote 
out the statement in his big round, scrawly hand. 

“How’s Lucy making out?” I asked him. 

“Fine,” he said. “She likes it out tliere and she’s company for 
Pappy. It suits her all right.” 

“That’s fine,” I said. 

“It suits me, too,” he said, not looking at me but across the foun- 
tain at his own face in the big mirror. “The way it is it all suits me 
just fine,” he said, and looked at the face in the mirror, which was 
freckled and thin-skinned over the full flesh but under the shaggy 
forelock was untroubled and pure like the face of a man who tops 
the last rise and looks down at the road running long and straight 
to the place where he is going. 

As I said, if a man like Willie can be said to live in the world 
of luck, Dolph Pillsbury and the Sheriff were his luck. They ran it 
over Willie and got the new schoolhouse built by J. H. Moore. J. 
H. Moore used the brick out of the kiln owned by the distant rela- 
tive of Pillsbury. It was just another big box of a schoolhouse with 
a fire escape at each end. The fire escapes weren’t the kind which 
looks like a silo and which has a corkscrew-shaped chute inside for 
the kiddies to slide down. They were iron stairs attached to the 
outside of the building. 

There wasn’t any fire at the schoolhouse. There was just a fire 
drill. 

About two years after the place was built, it happened. There 
was a fire drill, and all the kids on the top floois started to use the 
fire escapes. The first kids to start down on the fire escape at the 
west end were little kids and they couldn’t get down the steps very 
fast. Right after them came a batch of big kids, seventh and eighth 
graders. Because the little kids held up the traffic, the fire escape 
and the iron platform at the top got packed with kids. Well, some 
of the brickwork gave and the bolts and bars holding the contrap- 
tion to the wall pulled loose and the whole thing fell away, spra^f- 
ing kids in all directions. 


69 



Three kids ‘were killed outright. They were the ones that hit tht 
concrete walk. About a dozen were crippled up pretty seriously and 
several o£ those never were much good afterward. 

It was a piece of luck for Willie. 

Willie didn’t try to cash in on the luck. He didn’t have to try. 
People got the point. Willie went to the triple funeral the town 
had for the kids who got killed, and stodd modestly in the back- 
ground. But old Mr. Sandeen, who was father of one of the dead 
kids, saw him back in the crowd and while the clods were still 
bouncing off the coffin lids Mr. Sandeen pushed back to him and 
grabbed him by the hand and lifted up one arm above his head 
and said, loud, “Oh, God, I am punished for accepting iniquity 
and voting against an honest manl” 

It brought down the house. Some women began to cry. Then 
other people began to come up and grab Willie by the hand. Pretty 
soon there was scarcely a dry eye in the crowd. Willie’s weren’t dry, 
either. 

It was Willie’s luck. But the best luck always happens to people 
who don’t need it. 

He had Mason County in the palm of his hand. And in the city 
his picture was in all the papers. But he didn’t run for anything. 
H< kept on working on his father’s farm and studying his law books 
at night. The only thing he did about politics was to get out and 
make some speeches for a fellow who was running in the primar]^ 
against the Congressman who had always been a pal of Pillsbury* 
Willie’s speeches weren’t any good, at least the one I heard wasn’t 
any good. But they didn’t have to be good. People didn’t bother ta» 
listen to them. They just came to look at Willie and clap and then 
go vote against the Pillsbury man. 

Then one day Willie woke up and found himself running for 
Governor. Or rather, he was running in the l)emocratic primary, 
which in our state is the same as running for Governor. 

Now it wasn’t any particular achievement to be running in the 
primary* Anybody who can scrape together a few dollars for the 
qualifying fee can offer for election and have the pleasure of seeing 
his^ame printed on the ballot. But' Willie’s case was a little dif- 
ferent. 

There were then two major factions in the Democratic party in 
tli^ state, the Joe Harrison outfit and the MacMurfee outfit. Harri- 
son had been Governor some time back, and MacMurfee was in 
then and was going to try to hold the job. Harrison was a city man 
and practically all of his backing was city backing. MacMurfee 
wasn’t exactly a hick, having been born and bred in Duboisville, 

70 



which is a pretty fair -sized place, maybe ninety thousand, but he 
had a lot of country backing and small-town backing. He had 
played pretty smart with the cocklebur vote and mostly had it. It 
was due to be a close race. That situation was what got Willie into 
the show. 

Somebody in the Harrison outfit got the idea, which God knows 
he didn’t invent, of putting in a dummy who misfht split the Mac- 
Murfee vote. This had to be somebody who had a strong appeal in 
the country. So that was Willie, who could throw some weight up 
in the north end of the state. There wasn’t any deal with Willie, it 
developed. Some gentlemen from the city called on him up in 
Mason City, driving up there in a fine car and striped pants. One 
of them was Mr. Duffy, Tiny Duffy, who was a lot grander now 
than he had been back that day when he and Willie had first met 
in the back room of Slade’s beer parlor. The gentlemen from the 
city persuaded Willie that he was the savior of the state. I suppose 
that Willie had his natural quota of ordinary suspicion and cagey- 
ness, but those things tend to evaporate when what people tell you 
is what you want to hear. Also there was the small matter of God. 
People said that God had taken a hand in the schoolhouse business. 
That God had stepped in on Willie’s side. The Lord had justified 
him. Willie was not religious by any ordinary standards, but the 
schoolhouse business very probably gave him the notion—which was 
shared by a lot of the local citizenry— that he stood in a special re- 
lation to God, Destiny, or plain Luck. And it doesn’t matter what 
you call it or if you go to church. And since the Lord move-s in a 
mysterious way, it should not have surprised Willie that He was 
using some fat men in striped pants and a big car to work His wilL 
The Lord was calling Willie, and Tiny Duffy was just an ex- 
pensively dressed Western Union boy in a Cadillac instead of on a 
bicycle. So Willie signed the receipt. 

Willie was ready to ride. He was a lawyer now. He had been for 
some little time, for after he had lost out as County Treasurer, he 
had buckled down to his books pretty seriously, in what time he 
could spare from farming and peddling his Fix-It Household Kit. 
He had sat up there in his room late at night in summer, dog sleepy 
but grinding his eyes into the page, while the moths tapped and 
blurred at the window screen and tried to get onto the flame of the 
oil lamp which sizzled softly on his table. Or he had sat up there on 
winter nights while the fire died out in the rusty trash-burner stove 
and the wind bea^ on the north side of the house, coming down a 
thousand miles through the night to shake the room where Willie 
sat hunched over the book. Long back, he had spent a year at the 

71 



Baptist College over at Marston, in the next county, long back 
before he had met Lucy, The college wasn't much more than a 
glorified grade school, but there he had heard the big names written 
on the big books. He had left the college with the big names in his 
head, because he didn't have any money. Then the war had come 
and he had been in it, stuck off somewhere in Oklahoma in a camp, 
feeling cheated, somehow, and feeling that he had missed his 
cliance. Then after the war there had been tlie working on his 
father's place and reading books at night, not law books, just what 
books he could get hold of. He wanted to know the history of the 
country. He had a college textbook, a big thick one. Years later, 
showing it to me, he prodded it with his finger, and said, ‘1 durn 
near memorized every durn word in it. I could name you every 
name. I could name you every date." Then he prodded it again, 
this time contemptuously, and said, “And the fellow that wrote it 
didn't know a God-damned thing. About how things were. He 
didn't know a thing. I bet things were just like they are now. A lot 
of folks wrassling round." But there had been tlie great names, too. 
There had been a notebook, a big cloth-bound ledger, in which he 
wrote the fine sayings and the fine ideas he got out of the books. A 
long time later he showed me that, too, and as I thumbed idly 
through it, noticing tlie quotations from Emerson and Macaulay 
and Benjamin Franklin and Shakespeare copied out in a ragged, 
boyish hand, he said with that same tone of amiable contempt, 
“Gee, back in those days I figured tliose fellows who wrote the books 
knew all there was. And I figured I was going to get me a chunk of 
it. Yeah, I figured I would sweat for me a chunk pf it." He laughed. 
And added, “Yeah, I thought I was the nuts.'N 

He had been going to get a chunk of all there was. But in tlie 
end it was a chunk of law. Lucy came into the picture, and then the 
kid Tom, and there was working, and later the courthouse, but in 
the end he got a chunk of law. An old lawyer over at Tyree helped 
him, lending him books and answering questions. There had been 
about three years of that. If he had just been trying to squeeze 
by the bar with as little as possible he could have done it a lot 
sooner, for back in tliose days, or now for that matter, it didn’t take 
any master mind to pass the bar examination. “I sure was a fool," 
Willie said to me once, talking about those times, “I thought you 
had really to learn all that stuff. I thought they meant for you to 
learn law. Hell, I got down to tliat bar examination and I looked 
at the questions and I nearly busted out laughing. Me sitting up 
there bearing down on tliose books, and then they gave me those 
little crappy questions. A corn-field nigger could have answered 

72 



them i£ he’d been able to spell. I ought to have looked twice at 
some of the lawyers I’d seen and Fd have known a half-wit could 
pass it. But, oh, no, I was hell-bent on learning me some law.** 
Then he laughed, stopped laughing, and said with a touch of the 
grimness which must have belonged to the long nights up there in 
his room when he bent over the trash-burner or heard the moths 
batting soft at the screen in the August dark: “Well, I learned me 
some law. I could wail.” He could wait. He had read the books the 
old lawyer over at Tyree had, and then he bought new books, send- 
ing away for them with the money he grubbed out of the ground or 
got with his patented Fix-It Household Kit. The time came in the 
end, and he put on his good suit, blue serge and slick in the seat, 
and caught the train down to the city to take the examination. He 
had waited, and now he really knew what was in the books. 

He was a lawyer now. He could hang the overalls on a nail and 
let them stiffen with the last sweat he had sweated into them. He 
could rent himself a room over the dry-goods store in Mason City 
and call it his office, and wait for somebody to come up the staii's 
where it was so dark you had to feel your way and where it smelled 
like the inside of an old trunk that’s been in the attic twenty years. 
He was a lawyer now and it had taken him a long time. It had 
taken him a long time because he had had to be a lawyer on his 
terms and in his own way. But that was over. But maybe it had 
taken him too long. If something takes too long, something hap- 
pens to you. You become all and only the thing you want and noth- 
ing else, for you have paid too much for it, too much in wanting 
and too much in waiting and too much in getting. In the end they 
just ask you those crappy little questions. 

But the wanting and the waiting were over now, and Willie had 
a haircut and a new hat and a new brief case with the copy of his 
speech in it (which he had written out in longhand and had said 
to Lucy with gestures, as though he were getting ready for the high- 
school oratorical contest) and a lot of new friends, with drooping 
blue jowls or sharp pale noses, who slapped him on the back, and 
a campaign manager. Tiny Duffy, who would introduce him to you 
and say with a tin-glittei'ing heartiness, “Meet Willie Stark, the next 
Governor of this state!” And Willie would put out his hand to you 
with the gravity of a bishop. For he never tumbled to a thing. 

I used to wonder how he got that way. If he had been running 
for something back in Mason County he never in God’s world 
would have been that way. He would have taken a perfectly realistic 
view of things and counted up his chances. Or if he had got into 
the gubernatorial primary on his own hook, he would have taken 

73 



a realistic view. But this was difEerent. He had been called. He had 
been touched. He had been summoned. And he was a little bit awe- 
struck by the fact. It seems incredible that he hadn’t taken one look 
at Tiny Duffy and his friends and realized that things might not be 
absolutely on the level. But actually, as I figured it, it wasn’t in- 
credible. For the voice of Tiny Duffy summoning him was nothing 
but the echo of a certainty and a blind compulsion within him, the 
thing that had made him sit up in his room, night after night, rub- 
bing the sleep out of his eyes, to write the fine phrases and the fine 
ideas in the big ledger or to bend with a violent, almost physical 
intensity over the yellow page of an old law' book. For him to deny 
the voice of Tiny Duffy would have been as difficult as for a saint 
to deny the voice that calls in the night. 

He wasn’t really in touch with the world. He was not only be- 
mused by the voice he had heard. He was bemused by the very 
grandeur of the position to which he aspired. The blaze of light 
hitting him in the eyes blinded him. After all, he had just come out 
of the dark, the period when he grubbed on the farm all day and 
didn’t see anybody but the family (and day after day he must have 
moved by them as though they weren’t half-real) and sat at night 
in his room with the books and hurt inside with the effort and the 
groping and the wanting. So it isn’t much wonder that the blaze of 
light blinded him. 

He knew something about human nature, all right. He’d sat 
around the county courthouse long enough to find out something. 
(True, he had got himself thrown out of the courthouse. But that 
wasn’t ignorance of human nature. It was, perhaps, a knowledge 
not of human nature in general but of his own nature in particular, 
something deeper than the mere question of right and wrong. He 
became a martyr, not through ignorance, not only for the right but 
also for some knowledge of himself deeper than right or wrong.) 
He knew something about human nature, but something now came 
between him and that knowledge. Jn a way, he flattered human na- 
ture. He assumed that other people were as bemused by the gran- 
deur and as blinded by the light of the post to which he aspired, 
and that they would only listen to argument and language that was 
grand and bright. So his speeches were cut to that measure. It was 
a weird mixture of facts and figures on one hand (his tax program, 
his road program) and of fine sentiments on the other hand (a faint 
echo, somewhat dulled by time, of the quotations copied out in the 
ragged, boyish hand in the big ledger). 

Willie went around the country in a good secondhand automo- 
bile, which had been bought on the eighteen-payment plan, and 

74 



saw his face on the posters nailed to telephone poles and corncrihs 
and board fences. He'd get to town, and after he'd been to the post 
office to see if there was a letter from I-ucy and after he had had 
a session with the local politicos and done some handshaking (he 
wasn’t too hot at that, too much talk about principles and not 
enough about promises), he would hole up in a hotel room ($2.00 
without bath) and work some more on his speech. He kept on 
polishing and revising the damned thing. He was hell-bent on mak- 
ing each one a second Gettysburg Address. And maybe after he had 
tinkered with it awhile, he would get up and start pacing in his 
room. He would pace and pace, and pretty soon he would start to 
say his speech. If you were in the next room, you could hear him 
pacing ?Lnd speeching, and when he stopped pacing you knew he 
had stopped in front of the mirror to polish up a gesture. 

And sometimes I'd be in the next room, for I was supposed to 
cover his campaign for the Chronicle. I’d be lying there in the hole 
in the middle of my bed where the springs had given down with 
the weight of wayfaring humanity, lying there on my back with my 
clothes on and looking up at the ceiling and watching the cigarette 
smoke flow up slow and splash against the ceiling like the upside- 
down slow-motion moving picture of the ghost of a waterfall or 
like the pale uncertain spirit rising up out of your mouth on the 
last exhalation, the way the Egyptians figured it, to leave the hori- 
zontal tenement of clay in its ill-fitting pants and vest. I’d be lying 
there letting the smoke drift up out of my mouth and not feeling 
anything, just watching the smoke as though I didn’t have any past 
or future, and suddenly Willie would start in the next room. 
Tramping and mumbling. 

It would be a reproach, an affront, a cause for laughter and a 
thing for tears. Knowing what you knew, you would lie there listen- 
ing to him getting ready to be Governor, and want to stuff the pil- 
low slip in your mouth to stop the giggles. The poor half-witted 
bastard and his speech. But the voice would keep on going over 
there beyond the wall, and the feet would keep on tramping, back 
and forth like the feet of a heavy animal prowling and swinging 
back and forth with a heavy swaying head in a locked-up room, or a 
cage, hunting for the place to get out, not giving up and irreconcil- 
ably and savagely sure that there was going to be a loose board or 
bar or latch sometime, not now but sometime. And listening to it, 
you wouldn't be so sure for a minute the bar or board would hold. 
Or the feet w^ould not stop and they were like a machine, which 
was not human or animal either, and were tramping on you like 
pestles or plungers in a big vat and you were the thing in the vat, 

75 



the thing that just happened to be there. The plungers didn’t care 
about its being you, or not being you, in tlie vat. But they would 
continue until there wasn’t any you, and afterward for a long time 
until the machine wore out or somebody switched off the juice. 

Then, because you want to lie down in the late afternoon on a 
Strange bed in a shadowy room and watch the smoke drift up and 
not think about anything, what you’ve been or what you’re going 
to be, and because the feet, tlie beast, tlie plungers, the half-wit 
won’t stop, you jerk yourself up and sit on the edge of the bed and 
feel like swearing. But you don’t. For you are wondering, with the 
beginnings of pain and insuj05ciency, what it is inside that won’t 
let the feet stop. Maybe he is a half-wit, maybe he won’t be Gover- 
nor, maybe nobody will listen to his speeches but Lucy, but the 
feet won’t stop. 

Nobody would listen to the speeches, including me. They were 
awful. They were full of facts and figures he had dug up about run- 
ning the state. He would say, “Now, friends, if you will bear pa- 
tiently with me for a few minutes, I will give you the figures,” and 
he would clear his throat and fumble with a sheet of paper and 
backbones would sag lower in the seats and folks would start clean- 
ing their fingernails with their pocket knives. If Willie had ever 
thought of talking to folks up on the platform just the way he 
could talk to you face to face when he got heated about something, 
leaning at you as if he meant every damned word he said and his 
eyes bugging out and shining, he might have swayed the constitu- 
ency. But no, he was trying to live up to his notion of a high des- 
tiny. 

It didn’t matter so much as long as Willie was playing the local 
circuit. The carry-over of the schoolhouse episode was still strong 
enough to mean something. He was the fellow on the Lord’s side 
and the Lord had given a sign. The Lord had knocked over the 
fire escape just to prove a point. But when Willie got down in the 
middle of the state he began to run into trouble. And when he hit 
a town of any size he found out that the folks didn’t care much 
which side of a question was the Lord’s side. 

Willie knew what was happening, but he didn’t know why. His 
face got a little thinner, and the thin skin seemed to draw back 
tighter over the flesh, but he didn’t look worried. That was the 
funny part. If ever a man had a right to look worried, it was Willie. 
But he didn’t. He just looked like a man in a kind of waking 
dream, and when he walked out on the platform before he began 
talking his face looked purified and lifted up and serene like the 
face of a man who has just pulled out of a hard sickness. 

76 



But he hadn’t pulled out of the sickness he had. He had gallop- 
ing political anemia. 

He couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He was like a man with 
a ciiill who simply reckons that the climate is changing all of a sud- 
den, and wonders why everybody else isn’t shiverifig too. Perhaps it 
was a desire for just a little human warmth that got him in the 
habit of dropping into my room late at night, after the speaking 
and the handshaking were over. He would sit for a spell, while I 
drank off my nightcap, and not "talk much, but one time, at Morris- 
town, where the occasion had sure-God been a black frost, he did, 
after sitting quiet, suddenly say, '‘How you think it’s going. Jack?” 

It was one of those embarrassing questions like "Do you think my 
wife is virtuous?” or "Did you know I am a Jew?” which are em- 
barrassing, not because of anything you might say for an answer, 
the truth or a lie, but because the fellow asked the question at all. 
But I said to him, "Fine, I reckon it’s going fine.” 

"You think so, for a fact?” he asked. 

"Sure,” I said. 

He chewed that for about a minute and then swallowed it. Then 
he said, "They didn’t seem to be paying attention much tonight. 
Not while I was trying to explain about my tax program.” 

"Maybe you try to tell ’em too much. It breaks down their brain 
cells.” 

"Looks like they’d want to hear about taxes, though,” he said. 

"You tell ’em too much. Just tell ’em you’re gonna soak the fat 
boys, and forget the rest of the tax stuff.” 

"What we need is a balanced tax program. Right now the ratio 
between income tax and total income for the state gives an index 
that-” 

"Yeah,” I said, "I heard the speech. But they don’t give' a damn 
about that. Hell, make ’em cry, or make ’em laugh, make ’em think 
you’re their weak and erring pal, or make ’em think you’re God- 
Almighty. Or make ’em mad. Even mad at you. Just stir ’em up, 
it doesn’t matter how or why, and they’ll love you and come back 
for more. Pinch ’em in the soft place. They aren’t alive, most of 
’em, and haven’t been alive in twenty years. Flell, their wives have 
lost their teeth and their shape, and likker won’t set on their stom- 
achs, and they don’t believe in God, so it’s up to you to give ’em 
something to stir ’em up and make ’em feel alive again. Just for 
half an hour. That’s what they come for. Tell ’em anything. But 
for Sweet Jesus’ sake don’t try to improve their minds.” 

I fell back exhausted, and Willie pondered that for a while. He 
just sat there, not moving and with his face quiet and pure, but 

77 



you had the feeling that if you listened close enough you would 
hear the feet tramping inside his head, that something was locked 
up in there and going back and forth. Then he said, soberly, 
‘‘Yeah, I know that's what some folks say.” 

“You weren’t born yesterday,” I said, and was suddenly angry 
with him. “You weren’t deaf and dumb all the time you had the 
job in the courthouse in Mason City. Even if you did get in because 
Pillsbury put you there.” 

He nodded. “Yeah,” he said, “I heard that kind of talk.” 

“It gets around,” I said. “It’s not any secret.” 

Then he demanded, “Do you think it’s true?” 

“True?” I eclioed, and almost asked myself the question before 
I said, “Hell, I don’t know. But there’s sure a lot of evidence.” 

He sat there a minute longer, then got up and said good night 
and went to his room. It wasn’t long before I heard the pacing start. 
I got undressed and lay down. But the pacing kept on. Old Master 
Mind lay there and listened to the pacing in the next room and 
said, “The bastard is trying to think up a joke he can tell ’em at 
Skidmore tomorrow night and make ’em laugh.” 

Old Master Mind was right. The candidate did tell a joke at 
Skidmore. But it didn’t make them laugh. 

But it was at Skidmore that I was sitting in a booth in a Greek 
cafe after the speaking, having a cup of coffee to steady my nerves 
and hiding out from people and the, cackle of voices and the smell 
of bodies and the way eyes look at you in a crowd, when in came 
Sadie Burke and gave the joint the once-over and caught sight of 
me and came back and sat down across from me in the booth. 

Sadie was one of Willie’s new friends, but I had known her from 
way back. She was an even better friend, rumor had it, of a certain 
Sen-Sen Puckett, who chewed Sen-Sen to keep his breath sweet and 
was a fat boy, both physically and politically speaking, and had been 
(and probably still was) a friend of Joe Harrison. Sen-Sen, according 
to some guesses, was the fellow who originally had had the bright 
idea of using Willie as the dummy. Sadie was a lot too good for 
Sen-Sen, who wasn’t, however, a bad looking fellow. Sadie herself 
wouldn’t have been called good looking, certainly not by the juries 
who pick out girls to be Miss Oregon and Miss New Jersey. She was 
built very satisfactorily but you tended to forget that, because of 
the awful clothes she wore and the awkward, violent, snatching ges- 
tures she made. She had absolutely black hair, which she cut off 
at a crazy length and which went out in all directions in a wild, 
electric way. Her features were good, if you noticed them, which 

78 



you were inclined not to do, because her face was pocked. But she 
did have wonderful eyes, deep-set and inky-velvety-black. 

Sadie wasn’t, however, too good for Sen-Sen because of her looks. 
She was too good for him because he was a heel. She had probably 
taken him up because he was good looking and then, again accord- 
ing to rumor, she had put him into political pay dirt. For Sadie 
was a very smart cooky. She had been around and she had learned a 
lot the very hard way. 

She was in Skidmore with the Stark party that time because she 
was attached to the Stark headquarters troop (probably as a kind 
of spy for Sen-Sen) in some such ambiguous role as secretary. As a 
matter of fact, she was around a lot, and made a good many of the 
arrangements and tipped off Willie about local celebrities. 

Well, now she came up to my booth in the Greek restaurant with 
that violent stride which was characteristic of her, and looked down 
at me, and demanded, '‘Can I sit with you?" 

She sat down before I could reply, 

"Or anything else," I replied gallantly, "stand, sit, or lie." 

She inspected me critically out of her inky-velvety-black, deep-set 
eyes, which glittered in the marred face, and shook her head. "No 
thanks," she said, "I like mine with vitamins." 

"You mean you don’t think I’m handsome?" I demanded. 

"I don’t care about anybody being handsome," she said, "but I 
never did go for anybody that reminded me of a box of spilled 
spaghetti. All elbows and dry rattle." 

"All right," I said. "I withdraw my proposal. With dignity. But 
tell me something, now that you mention vitamins. You figure your 
candidate Willie has any vitamins? For the constituency?" 

"Oh, God,” she whispered, and rolled her eyes to heaven. 

"All right," I said. "When are you going to tell the boys back 
home it’s no go?" 

"What do you mean, no go? They’re planning on a big barbecue 
and rally at Upton. Duffy told me so." 

"Sadie," I said, "you know damned well they’d have to barbecue 
the great woolly mastodon and use ten-dollar bills instead of let- 
tuce on the buns. Why don’t you tell the big boys it’s no go?" 

"What put that in your head?" 

"Listen, Sadie," I said, "we’ve been pals for a long time and you 
needn’t lie to uncle. I don't put everything I know in the papers, 
but I know that Willie isn’t in this race because you admire his 
oratory." 

"Ain’t it awful?" she demanded. 

79 



know it’s a frame-up/' I said. ’^Everybody knows but Willie.” 

**Ail right/' she admitted. 

"'When are you going to tell the boys back home it's no go, that 
they are wasting dough? That Willie couldn't steal a vote from Abe 
Lincoln in the Cradle of the Confederacy?” 

"1 ought to done it long ago/' she said. 

"'When are you going to?” I asked. 

"Listen,” she said, "'I told them before this thing ever started it 
was no go. But they wouldn't listen to Sadie. Those fat-heads—” and 
she suddenly spewed out a mouthful of cigarette smoke over the 
rounded, too red, suddenly outcurling and gleaming underlip. 

"Why don't you tell them it's no go and get the poor bastard out 
of his agony?” 

"'Let them spend their God-damned money/^ she said fretfully, 
twitching her head as though to get the cigarette smoke out of her 
eyes. "I wish they were spending a lot more, the fat-heads. I wish 
the poor bastard had had enough sense to make them grease him 
good to take the beating he’s in for. Now all he'll get will be the 
ride. Might as well let him have that Ignorance is bliss.” 

The waitress brought a cup of coffee, which Sadie must have or- 
^dered when she came in before she spotted me. She took a drag of 
the coffee, and then a deep drag of the cigarette. 

"‘You know,” she said, jabbing out the butt savagely in the cup 
and looking at it and not at me, “you know, even if somebody told 
him. Even if he found out he was a sucker, I believe he might keep 
right on.” 

""Yeah,” I said, "‘making those speeches.” 

"‘God,” she said, "‘aren't they awful?” 

"‘Yeah.” 

"‘But I believe he might keep right on/' she said. 

"‘Yeah.” 

"The sap,” she said. 

We walked back to the hotel, and I didn't see Sadie again, except 
once or twice to say howdy-do to, until Upton. Things hadn't im- 
proved any before Upton. I went back to town and left the candi- 
date to his own devices for a week or so in between, but I heard the 
news. Then I got the train over to Upton the day before the bar- 
becue. 

Upton is way over in the western part of the state, the capital of 
the cocklebur vote which was supposed to come pelting out of the 
brush to the barbecue. And just a little way north of Upton there 
was the coal pocket, where a lot of folks lived in company shacks 
and prayed for a full week’s work. It was a good location to get a 

80 



sellout house for the barbecue. Those folks in the shacks were in 
such a shape they’d be ready to walk fifteen miles for a bait of fresh. 
If they still had the strength, and it was free. 

The local I rode puffed and yanked and stalled and yawed across 
the cotton country. We’d stop on a siding for half an hour, waiting 
for something, and I watched the cotton rows converging into the 
simmering horizon, and a black stub of a burnt tree in the middle 
distance standing up out of the cotton rows. Then, late in the after- 
noon, the train headed into the cut-over pine and sagebrush. We 
would stop beside some yellow, boxlike station, with the unpainted 
houses dropped down beyond, and I could see up the alley behind 
the down-town and then, as the train pulled out again, across the 
back yards of houses surrounded by boaid or wire fences as though 
to keep out the openness of the humped and sage-furred country 
which seemed ready to slide in and eat up the houses. The houses 
didn’t look as though they belonged there, improvised, flung down, 
ready to be abandoned. Some washing would be hanging on a line, 
but the people would go off and leave that too. They wouldn't have 
•time to snatch it off the line. It would be getting dark soon, and 
they’d better hurry. 

But as the train pulls away, a woman comes to the back door of 
one of the houses— just the figure of a woman, for you cannot make 
out the face— and she has a pan in her hands and she flings the 
water out of the pan to make a sudden tattered flash of silver in the 
light. She goes back into the house. To what is in the house. The 
floor of' the house is thin against the bare ground and the walls and 
the roof are thin against all of everything which is outside, but you 
cannot see through the walls to the secret to which the woman has 
gone in. 

The train pulls away, faster now, and the woman is back there in 
the house, where she is going to stay. She’ll stay there. And all at 
once, you think that you are the one who is running away, and 
who had better run fast to wherever you are going because it will 
be dark soon. The train is going pretty fast now, but its effort seems 
to be through a stubborn cloying density of air as though an eel 
tried to swim in syrup, or the effort seems to be against an increas- 
ing and implacable magnetism of earth. You think that if the earth 
should twitch once, as the hide of a sleeping dog twitches, the train 
would be jerked over and piled up and the engine would spew and 
gasp while somewhere a canted-up wheel wauld revolve once with 
a massive and dreamlike deliberation. 

But nothing happens, and you remember that the woman had 
not even looked up at the train. You forget her, and the train goes 



fast, and is going fast when it crosses a little trestle. You catch the 
$ober, metallic, pure, late-light, unrifHed glint of the water between 
the little banks, under the sky, and see the cow standing in the 
water upstream near the single leaning willow. And all at once you 
feel like crying. But the train is going fast, and almost immediately 
whatever you felt is taken away from you, too. 

You bloody fool, do you think that you want to milk a cow? 

You do not want to milk a cow. 

Then you are at Upton. 

In Upton I went to the hotel, toting my little bag and my type- 
writer through the gangs of people on the street, people who looked 
at me with the countryman's slow, full, curious lack of shame, and 
didn't make room for me to pass until I was charging them down, 
the way a cow won’t get out of the way of your car in a lane until 
your radiator damned near bats her in the underslung slats. At the 
hotel I ate a sandwich and went up to my room, and got the fan 
turned on and a pitcher of ice water sent up and took off my shoes 
and shirt and propped myself in a chair with a book. 

At ten-thirty there was a knock on the door. I yelled, and in came 
Willie. 

'"Where you been?” I asked him. 

"Been here all afternoon,” he said. 

"Duffy been dragging you round to shake hands with all the 
leading citizens?” 

"YeSi,” he said, glumly. 

The glumness in his voice made me look sharply at him. "What’s 
the matter?” I asked. "Don’t the boys around here talk nice to 
you?” 

"Sure, they talk all right,” he said. He came over, and took a chair 
by the writing table. He poured some water into one of the glasses 
on the tray beside my bottle of red-eye, drank it, and repeated, 
"Yeah, they talk all right.” 

I looked at him again. The face was thinner and the skin was 
pulled back tighter so that it looked almost transparent under the 
clusters of freckles. He sat there heavily, not paying any attention 
to me as though he were mumbling something over and over in his 
mind. 

"What’s eating you?” I asked. 

For a moment he didn't act as if he had heard me, and when he 
did turn his head to me there seemed to be no connection between 
the act and what I had said. The act seemed to come from what 
was going on inside his head and not because I had spoken. 

"A man don’t have to be Governor,” he said. 

82 



**Huh?’* I responded in my surprise, for that was the last thing I 
ever expected out of Willie by that time. The showing in the last 
town (where I hadn't been) must have been a real jErost to wake 
him up. 

'‘A man don't have to be Governor," he repeated, and as 1 looked 
at his face now I didn't see the thin-skinned, boyish face, but an- 
other face under it, as though the first face were a mask of glass and 
now I could see through it to the other one. I looked at the second 
face and saw, all of a sudden, the heavyish lips laid together to re- 
mind you of masonry and the knot of muscle on each cheek back 
where the jawbone hinges on. 

"Well," I replied belatedly, “the votes haven’t been counted yet." 

He mumbled over in his mind what he had been working on. 
Then he said, "I’m not denying I wanted it. I won't lie to you," he 
said, and leaned forward a little and looked at me as though he 
were trying to convince me of the thing which I was already surer 
of than I was of hands and feet. "I wanted it. I lay awake at night, 
just wanting it.” He worked his big hands on his knees, making the 
knuckles crack. "Hell, a man can lie there and want something so 
bad and be so full of wanting it he just plain forgets what it is he 
wants. Just like when you are a boy and the sap first rises and you 
think you will go crazy some night wanting something and you 
want it so bad and get so near sick wanting it you near forget what 
it is. It’s something inside you—" he leaned at me, with his eyes on 
my face, and grabbed the front of his sweat-streaked blue shirt to 
make me think he was going to snatch the buttons loose to show me 
something. 

But he subsided back in the chair, letting his eyes leave me to 
look across the wall as though the wall weren't there, and said, 
"But wanting don’t make a thing true. You don't have to live for- 
ever to figure that out," 

That was so true I didn't reckon it was worthwhile even to agree 
with him. 

He didn’t seem to notice my silence, he was so wrapped up in his 
own. But after a minute he pulled out of it, stared at me, and said, 
"I could have made a good Governor. By God—" And he struck his 
knee with his fist— "by God, a lot better than those fellows. Look 
here—" and he leaned at me— "what this state needs is a new tax 
program. And the rate ought to be raised on the coal lands the 
state’s got leased out. And there’s not a decent road in the state 
once you get in the country. And I could save this state some money 
by merging some departments. And schools— look at me, I never 

83 



had a decent day's schooling in my life, what I got I dug out, and 
there's no reason why this state—” 

I had heard it all before. On the platform when he stood up there 
high and pure in the face and nobody gave a damn. 

He must have noticed that I wasn’t giving a damn. He shut up 
all of a sudden. He got up and walked across th^ floor, and back, 
his head thrust forward and the forelock falling over his brow. He 
stopped in front of me. ‘Those things need doing, don’t they?** he 
demanded. 

“Sure,” I said, and it was no lie. 

“But they won’t listen to it,” he said. “God damn those bastards,** 
he said, “they come out to hear a speaking and then they won’t 
listen to you. Not a word. They don’t care. God damn 'em! They 
deserve to grabble in the dirt and get nothing for it but a dry gut* 
rumble. They won’t listen.” 

“No,” I agreed, “they won’t.” 

“And I won’t be Governor,” he said, shortly. “And they’ll deserve 
what they get.” And added, “The bastards.” 

“Well, you want me to hold your hand about it?” Suddenly, I 
was sore at him. Why did he come to me? What did he expect me 
to do? What made him think I wanted to hear about what the state 
needed? Hell, I knew. Everybody knew. It wasn’t any secret What 
it needed was some decent government. But who the hell was going 
to give it? And who cared if nobody did or ever did? What did he 
come whining to me for about that? Or about how bleeding much 
he wanted to be Governor because he lay and thought about it in 
the night? All that was in me as I suddenly felt sore at him and 
asked him snottily if he expected me to hold his hand. 

He was looking at me slowly, giving me the once-ov^, reading 
my face. But he didn’t look sore. Which surprised me, for I had 
wanted to make him sore, sore enough to get out. But there wasn’t 
even surprise in his look. “No, Jack,” he finally said, shaking his 
head, “I wasn’t asking for sympathy. Whatever happens I’m not 
asking you or anybody else for sympathy.” He shook himself 
heavily, like a big dog coming out of the wet, or waking up. “No, 
by God,” he said, and he wasn’t really talking to me now, “I’m not 
asking anybody in the world for it, not now or ever.” 

That seemed to settle something. So he sat down again. 

“What are you going to do?” I asked. 

“I got to think,” he replied. “I don’t know and I got to think. 
’The bastards,” he said, “if I could just make ’em listen.” 

It was just at that time Sadie came in. Or rather, she knocked at 
the door, and I yelled, and she came in. 

84 



"‘Hello,*' she said, gave a quick look at the scene, ana started 
toward us. Her eye was on the bottle of red-eye on my table. “How 
about some refreshment?’* she asked. 

“All right,’* I replied, but apparently I didn’t get the right 
amount of joviality into my tone. Or maybe she could tell some- 
thing had been going on from the way the air smelled, and if any- 
body could do that it would be Sadie. 

Anyway, she stopped in the middle of the floor and said, “\Vhat*s 
up?’* 

I didn’t answer right away, and she came across to the writing 
table, moving quick and nervous, the way she always did, inside ‘of 
a shapeless shoddy-blue summer suit that she must have got by 
walking into a secondhand store and shutting her eyCs and pointing 
and saying, “I’ll take that.** 

She reached down and took a cigarette out of my pack lying there 
and tapped it on the back of her knuckles and turned her hot lamps 
on me. 

“Nothing,** I said, “except Willie here is saying how he’s not 
going to be Governor.** 

She had the match lighted by the time I got the words out, but 
it never got to the cigarette. It stopped in mid-air. 

“So you told him,** she said, looking at me. 

“The hell I did,** I said. “1 never tell anybody anything. I just 
listen.** 

She snapped the match out with a nasty snatch of her wrist and 
turned on Willie. “Who told you?** she demanded. 

“Told me what?** Willie asked, looking up at her steady. 

She saw that she had made her mistake. And it was not the kind 
of mistake for Sadie Burke to make. She had made her way in the 
world up from the shack in the mud flat by always finding out what 
you knew and never letting you know what she knew. Her style 
was not to lead with the chin but with a neat length of lead pipe 
after you had stepped off balance. But she had led with the chin 
this time. Somewhere way back inside of Sadie Burke there had 
been the idea that I was going to tell Willie. Or that somebody was 
going to tell Willie. Not that she, Sadie Burke, would tell Willie, 
but that Willie would be told and Sadie Burke wouldn't have to. 
Or nothing as specific as that. Just floating around in the deep dark 
the idea of Willie and the idea of the thing Willie didn’t know, 
like two bits of drift sucked down in an eddy to the bottom of the 
river to revolve slowly and blindly there in the dark. But there, all 
the time. 

So, out of an assumption she had made, without knowing it, or 

85 



a "wish^or a fear she didn't know she had, she led with her chin. 
And standing there, rolling that unlighted cigarette in her strong 
fingers, she knew it. The nickel was in the slot, and looking at 
Willie you could see the wheels and the cogs and the cherries and 
the lemons begin to spin inside the machine. 

"Told me what?" Willie said. Again. 

‘'That you’re not going to be Governor," she said, with a dash of 
easy levity, but she flashed me a look, the only S O S, I suppose 
Sadie Burke ever sent out to anybody. 

But it was her fudge and I let her cook it. 

Willie kept on looking at her, waiting while she turned to one 
side and uncorked my bottle and poured herself out a steady-er. 
She took it, and without any ladylike cough. 

“Told me what?" Willie said. 

She didn’t answer. She just looked at him. 

And looking right back at her, he said, in a voice like death and 
taxes, “Told me what?" 

“God damn you!" she blazed at him then, and the glass rattled 
on the tray as she set it down without looking. “You God-damned 
sap!" 

“All right," Willie said in the same voice, boring in like a boxer 
when the other fellow begins to swing wild. “What was it?" 

“All right," she said, “all right, you sap, you've been framed!" 

He looked at her steady for thirty seconds, and there wasn't a 
sound but the sound of his breathing. I was listening to it. 

Then he said, “Framed?" 

“And how!" Sadie said, and leaned toward him with what seemed 
to be a vindictive and triumphant intensity glittering in her eyes 
and ringing in her voice. “Oh, you decoy, you wooden-headed de- 
coy, you let ’em! Oh, yeah, you let 'em, because you thought you 
were the little white lamb of God—" and she paused to give him 
a couple of pitiful derisive haa's, twisting her mouth— “yeah, you 
thought you were the lamb of God, all right, but you know what 
you are?" 

She waited as though for an answer, but he kept staring at her 
without a word. 

“Well, you’re the goat," she said. “You are the sacrificial goat. 
You are the ram in the bushes. You are a sap. For you let 'em. 
You didn’t even get anything out of it. They'd have paid you to 
take the rap, but they didn’t have to pay a sap like you. Oh, no, 
you were so full of yourself and hot air and how you are Jesus 
Christ, that all you wanted was a chance to stand on your hind 
legs and make a speech. My friends—" she twisted her mouth in a 

86 



nasty, simpering mimicry— “my friends, what this state needs is a 
gooci five-cent cigar. Oh, my God!” And she laughed with a kind of 
wild, artificial laugh, suddenly cut short. 

“Why?” he demanded, still staring steadily at her, breathing hard 
but not showing anything. “Why did they do it? To me?” 

“Oh, my God!” she exclaimed and turned to me. “Listen to the 
sap. He wants to know why.” Then she swung to him again, lean- 
ing closer, saying, “Listen, if you can get this through your thick 
head. They wanted you to split the MacMurfee vote. In the sticks. 
Do you get that or do you want a picture? Can you get that straight, 
you wooden-head?” 

He looked at me, slow, wet his lips, then said, “Is it true?” 

“He wants to know if it’s true,” Sadie announced prayerfully to 
the ceiling. “Oh, my God!” 

“Is it true?” he asked me. 

“That's what they tell me,” I said. 

Well, it hit him. There was no denying it. His face worked as 
thought he might try to say something or might bust out crying. 
But he didn’t do either one. He reached over to the table and 
picked up the bottle and poured out enough into a glass to floor 
the Irish and drank it off neat. 

“Hey,” I said, “take it easy, you aren’t used to that stuff.” 

“He ain’t used to a lot of things,” Sadie said, shoving the bottle 
toward him on the tray. “He ain’t used to the idea he’s not going 
to be Governor. Are you, Willie?” 

“Why can’t you lay off?” I said to her. 

But she didn’t even notice me. She leaned toward Willie, and 
repeated, coaxingly this time, “Are you, Willie?” 

He reached for the bottle and did it again. 

“Are you?” she demanded, not coaxing now. 

“I was,” he said, looking up at her, the blood up in his face now> 
the tousle of hair hanging, his breath coming heavy. “I was,” he 
said, “before, but I’m not now.” 

“Not what?” she said. 

“Not used to it.” 

“You better get used to it,” she said, and laughed, and shoved 
the bottle in his direction. 

He took it, poured, drank, set the glass down deliberately, and 
said: “I better not. I better not get used to it.” 

She laughed again, that wild artificial laugh, chopped off the 
laugh, and echoed, “He says he better not get used to it. Oh, my 
God!” Then she laughed again. 

He sat there heavy in his chair, but not leaning back, the sweat 

87 



beginning to pop out on his face and run down slow and shining 
over the flesh. He sat there, not noticing the sweat, not wiping it 
away, watching her laugh. 

All at once he heaved up out of the chair. I thought he was going 
to jump her. And she must have thought so too, for her laugh 
stopped. Right in tlie middle of the aria. But he didn’t jump her. 
He wasn’t even looking at her. He flung his glance wide around 
ithe room, and lifted his hands up in front of him, as though he 
Were ready to grab something. “I’ll kill ’eml” he said, “I’ll kill ’eml” 

“Sit down,” she said, and leaned quickly toward him to give him 
a shove on the chest. 

His pegs weren’t too steady, and he went down. Right in the 
chair. 

“I’ll kill ’em,” he said, sitting there, sweating. 

^*You won’t do a God-damned thing,” she announced. “You won’t 
be Governor and you won’t get paid for not being and you won’t 
kill them or anybody else, and you know why?” 

“I’ll kill ’em,” he said. 

‘“I’ll tell you why,” she said, leaning. “It’s because you’re a sap. 
A triple-plated, spoon-fed, one-gallus sap, and you—” 

I got up. “I don’t care what kind of games you play,” I said, 
“but I don’t have to stay here and watch you.” 

She didn’t even turn her head. I went to the door, and out, and 
the last I heard she was defining what kind of a sap he was. I fig- 
ured that that might take anybody some time. 

I took in a good deal of Upton that night. I saw the folks coming 
out of the last show at the Picture Palace, and I admired the ceme- 
tery gates and the schoolhouse by moonlight, and I leaned over 
the railing of the bridge over the creek and spit in the water. It 
took about two hours. Then I went back to the hotel. 

When I opened the door of the room, Sadie was sitting in a 
chair by the writing table, smoking a cigarette. The air was thick 
enough to cut with a knife, and in the light of the lamp on the 
table the blue smoke drifted and swayed and curdled around her 
so that I got the impression I might have been looking at her sit- 
ting submerged in a tank full of soapy dishwater at the aquarium. 
The bottle on the table was empty. 

For a second or two I thought that Willie had left. Then I saw 
the finished product. 

It was lying on my bed. 

I came in, and shut the door. 

“Things seem to have quieted down,” I remarked. 

"Teah.” 


88 



I walked over to the bed and inspected the item. It was lying on 
its back. The coat was pushed up under the armpits, the hands 
were crossed piously on the bosom like the hands of a gisant on a 
tomb in a cathedral, the shirt had pulled up some from its moorings 
under the belt and the two lowest buttons had come unbuttoned so 
that a triangular patch of slightly distended stomach was visible- 
white, with a few coarse dark hairs. The mouth was parted a little, 
and the lower lip vibrated with a delicate flabbiness at each meas- 
ured expulsion of breath. All very pretty. 

“He rared around some,“ Sadie said. “Telling me what he was 
going to do. Oh, he’s gonna do big things. He's gonna be President. 
He's gonna kill people with his bare hands. Oh, my Godl" She 
took a drag on her cigarette and spewed the smoke out and .then 
fanned the backwash away from her face with a savage, slapping 
motion of her right hand. “But I quieted him down,” she added, 
with an air of grim, suddenly spinsterish, satisfaction, the kind your 
great-aunt used to wear. 

“Is he going to the barbecue?” I asked. 

“How the hell do I know?” she snapped. “He wasn't screaming 
about any little detail like a barbecue. Oh, he’s a big operator. 
But—” She paused, and did the drag and spew and fanning rou- 
tine— “I quieted him.” 

“It looks like you slugged him,” I observed. 

“I didn’t slug him,” she said. “But I hit him where he lives. 
I finally got across to him the kind of sap he is. And that quieted 
him.” 

“He’s quiet now, all right,” I said, and walked over toward the 
table. 

“He didn’t get that quiet all of a sudden. But he got quiet 
enough to sit in a chair and hang on to the bottle for support andl 
talk about how he’d have to break the news to some God-damned 
Lucy.” 

“That’s his wife,” I said. 

“He talked like it was his mammy and would blow his nose for 
him. Then he said he was going right to his room and write her a 
letter. But,” she said, and looked over at the bed, “he never made 
it. He made the middle of the floor, and then heaved for the bed.” 

She rose from the chair and went over to the bed and looked 
down at him. 

“Does Duffy know?” I asked. 

“I don’t give a damn what Duffy knows,” she said. 

I went over to the bed, too. “I guess we’ll hav<£ to leave him 
here,” I said. “I’ll go over to his room and sleep.” I leaned over 

89 



and hunted for his room key in the pockets. I found it. Then I 
took a toothbrush and some pajamas out of my bag. 

She was still standing by the bed. She turned to me. “It looks 
like you might at least take the bastard’s shoes off,” she said. 

I laid down my truck on the side of the bed, and did it. I picked 
up the pajamas and toothbrush and went over to the table to 
switch off the lamp. Sadie was still by the bed. “You better write 
that letter to that Mamma Lucy,” she said, “and ask where to ship 
the remains.” 

As I laid my hand on the switch, I looked back at Sadie standing 
there looking down at the remains, with the left arm, the arm to- 
ward me, hanging straight down and a cigarette hanging out of the 
tips of two fingers and unreeling its spinner of smoke slowly up- 
ward, and with her head leaning forward a little while she ex- 
pelled smoke meditatively over her again outthrust and gleaming 
lower lip. 

There was Sadie, who had come a long way from the shanty in 
the mud flats. She had come a long way because she played to win 
and she didn’t mean to win matches and she knew that to win you 
have to lay your money on the right number and that if your num- 
ber doesn’t show there’s a fellow standing right there with a little 
rake to rake in your money and then it isn’t yours any more. She 
had been around a long time, talking to men and looking them 
straight in the eye like a man. Some of them liked her, and those 
that didn’t like her listened when she talked, which wasn’t too 
often, because there was reason to believe that when those big 
black eyes, which were black in a way which made it impossible 
for you to tell whether it was a blackness of surface or a blackness 
of depth, looked at the wheel before it began to move they could 
see the way the wheel would be after it had ceased to move and 
saw the little ball on the number. Some of them liked her a lot, 
like Sen-Sen. That had at one time been hard for me to get. I saw 
a package done up in the baggy tweed or droopy seersucker suit, 
according to the solstice, and the pocked face with the heavy smear 
of lipstick and the black lamps in it and above it the mob of black 
hair which looked as though it had been hacked off at ear length 
with a meat cleaver. 

Then one time, suddenly, I saw something else. You see a woman 
around for a long time and think that she is ugly. You think she is 
nothing. Then, all of a sudden, you think how she is under that 
baggy tweed or droopy seersucker. All of a sudden, you see the 
face which is there under the pock-marked mask and is humble, 
pure, and trusting and is asking you to lift the mask. It must be 

90 



like an old man looking at his wife and just for a second seeing the 
face he had seen thirty years before. Only in the case I am talking 
about it is not remembering a face which you have seen a long time 
back but discovering a face which you have never seen. It is future, 
not past. It is very unsettling. It was very unsettling, temporarily* 

I made my pass, and it didn’t come to a thing. 

She laughed in my face and said, “I’ve got my arrangements, and 
I stick to my arrangements as long as I’ve got my arrangements.’* 

I didn’t know what the arrangements were. That was before the 
day of Mr. Sen-Sen JPuckett. That was before the day when she gave 
him the benefit of her gift for laying it on the right number. 

Nothing of this passed through my mind as I put my hand on 
the switch of the lamp and looked back at Sadie Burke. But I tell 
it in order that it may be known who the Sadie Burke %vas who 
stood by the bed meditating on the carcass as I laid my hand on 
the switch and who had come the way she had come by not leading 
with her chin but who had led with her chin that night. 

At least, that was the way I figured it. 

I turned the switch, and she and I went out the door, and said 
good night in the hall. 

It must have been near nine the next morning when Sadie beat 
on my door and I came swimming and swaying up from the bottom 
of a muddy sleep, like a piece of sogged driftwood stirred up from 
the bottom of a pond. I made the door and stuck my head out. 

“Listen/* she said without any build-up of civilities, “Duffy’s 
going out to the fair grounds, and 111 ride with him. He’s got a 
lot of big-shotting to do out there. He wanted to get the sap out 
pretty early, too, to mingle with the common herd, but I told him 
he wasn't feeling too good. That he’d be out a little later.” 

“O.K./* I said, “I’m not paid for it, but I’ll try to deliver him.** 

“I don’t care w^hether he ever gets there,” she said. “It won’t be 
skin off my nose.” 

“I’ll try to get him there anyway.” 

“Suit yourself,” she said, and walked off down the hall, twitch- 
ing the seersucker. 

I looked out the window and saw that it was going to be another 
day, and shaved, and dressed, and went down to get a cup of coffee. 
Then I went to my room, and knocked. There was some kind of a 
sound inside, like an oboe blatting once deep inside a barrel of 
feathers. So I went in. I had left the door unlocked the night before. 

It was after ten by that time. 

Willie was on the bed. In the same place, the coat still wadded 

91 



up under his armpits, his hands still crossed on his chest, his face 
pale and pure. I went over to the bed. His head didn’t turn, but 
his eyes swung toward me with a motion that made you think you 
could hear them creak in the sockets. 

“Good morning,” I said. 

He opened his mouth a little way and his tongue crept out and 
explored the lips carefully, wetting them. Then he grinned weakly, 
as though he were experimenting to see if anything would crack. 
Nothing happened, so he whispered, “I reckon I was drunk last 
night?” 

“That’s the name it goes by,” I said. 

“It’s the first time,” he said. “I never got drunk before. I never 
even tasted it but once before.” 

“I know. Lucy doesn’t favor drinking.” 

“I reckon she’ll understand though when I tell her,” he said. 
“She’ll see how it was I came to do it.” Then he sank into medi- 
tation. 

“How do you feel?” 

“I feel all right,” he said, and pried himself up to a sitting pos- 
ture, swinging his feet to the floor. He sat there with his sock-feet 
on the floor, taking stock of the internal stresses and strains. 
“Yeah,” he concluded, “I feel all right.” 

“Are you going to the barbecue?” 

He looked up at me with a laborious motion of the head and 
an expression of question on his face as though I were the fellow 
who was supposed to answer. “W^at made you ask that?” he de- 
manded. 

“Well, a lot’s been happening.” 

“Yeah,” he said. “Fm going.” 

“Duffy and Sadie have already gone. Duffy wants you to come 
on out and mingle with the common herd.” 

“All right,” he said. Then, with his eyes fixed on an imaginary 
spot on the floor about ten feet from his toes, he stuck his tongue 
out again and began to caress his lips. “I’m thirsty,” he said. 

“You are dehydrated,” I said. “The result of alcohol taken in 
excess. But that is the only way to take it. It is the only way to do 
a man any good,” 

But he wasn't listening. He had pulled himself up and padded 
off into the bathroom. 

I could hear the slosh of water and the gulping and inhaling. He 
must have been drinking out of the faucet. After about a minute 
that sound stopped. There wasn’t any sound at all for a spell. Then 
there was a new one. Then the agony was over. 

ao 



He appeared at the bathroom door, braced against the door^ 
jamb, staring at me with a face of sad reproach bedewed with the 
glitter of cold sweat. 

"‘You needn't look at me like that,*' I said, “the likker was ail 
right.’* 

“I puked,” he said wistfully. 

“Well, you didn’t invent it. Besides, now you’ll be able to eat 
a great big, hot, juicy, high-powered slab of barbecued hog meat.” 

He didn’t seem to think that that was very funny. And neither 
did I. But he didn’t seem to think it was especially unfunny, either. 
He just hung on the doorjamb looking at me like a deaf and dumb 
stranger. Then he retired again into the bathroom. 

“I’ll order you a pot of coffee,” I yelled in to him. “It’ll fix you 
up.” 

But it didn’t. He took it, but it didn’t even take time to make 
itself at home. 

Then he lay down for a while. I put a cold towel on his fore- 
head and he closed his eyes. He laid his hands on his breast, and 
the freckles on his face looked like rust spots on polished alabaster. 

About eleven-fifteen the desk called up to say that a car and two 
gentlemen were waiting to drive Mr. Stark to the fairgrounds. 
I put my hand over the receiver, and looked over at Willie. His 
eyes had come open and were fixed on the ceiling. 

“What the hell do you want to go to that barbecue for?” I said. 
“I’m going to tell ’em to hist tail.” 

“I’m going to the barbecue,” he announced from the spirit world, 
his eyes still fixed on the ceiling. 

So I went down to the lobby to stall off two of the local semi- 
leading citizens who’d even agreed to ride in the gubernatorial 
hearse to get their names in the paper. I stalled them. I said Mr. 
Stark was slightly indisposed, and I would drive him out in about 
an hour. 

At twelve o’clock I tried the coffee treatment again. It didn’t 
work. Or rather, it worked wrong. Duffy called up from out at the 
fairgrounds and wanted to know what the hell. I told him he’d bet* 
ter go on and distribute the loaves and fishes and pray God for 
Willie to arrive by two o’clock. 

“What’s the matter?” demanded Duffy. 

“Boy,” I said, “the longer you don’t know the happier you’ll be,” 
and hung up the phone. 

Along toward one, after Willie had made another effort to re- 
cuperate with coffee and had failed, I said, “Lock here, Willie, what 

93 



you going out there for? Why don't you stay here? Send word you 
are sick and spare yourself some grief. Then, later on, if—" 

“No," he said, and pushed himself up to a sitting position on the 
side of the bed. His face had a high and pure and transparent look 
like a martyr's face just before he steps into the flame. 

“Well," I said, without enthusiasm, “if you are hell-bent, you 
got one more chance." 

“More coffee?" he asked. 

“No," I said, and unstrapped my suitcase and got out the second 
bottle. I poured some in a tumbler and took it to him. “According 
to the old folks," I said, “the best way is to put two shots of 
absinthe on a little cracked ice and float on a shot of rye. But we 
can't be fancy. Not with Prohibition." 

He got it down. There was a harrowing moment, then I drew 
a sigh of relief. In ten minutes I repeated the dose. Then I told 
him to get undressed while I ran a tub of cold water. While he 
was in the tub I called down for the desk to get us a car. Then I 
went to Willie’s room to get some clean clothes and his other suit. 

He managed to get dressed, taking time out now and then for 
me to give a treatment. 

He got dressed and then sat on the edge of the bed wearing a 
big label marked, Hmdle with Care-'This End Up--Fragile, But 
I got him down to the car. 

Then I had to go back up and get a copy of his speech, which 
he’d left in his top bureau drawer. He might need it, he said after 
I got back. He might not be able to remember very well, and might 
have to read it. 

“All about Peter Rabbit and Wallie Woodchuck," I said, but he 
wasn't attending. 

He lay back and closed his eyes while the tumbril bumped over 
the gravel toward the fairgrounds. 

I looked up the road and saw the flivvers and wagons and bug- 
gies ranked on the outskirts of a grove, and the fair buildings, and 
an American flag draped around a -staff against the blue sky. Then, 
above the sound of our coffee-grinder, I caught the strains of music. 
Duffy was soothing the digestion of the multitude. 

Willie put out his hand and laid it on the flask. “Gimme that 
thing,” he said. 

“Go easy," I said, “you aren't used to this stuff. You already—" 

But he had it to his mouth by that time and the sound of it 
gargling down would have drowned the sound of my words even 
if I had kept on wasting them. 

When he handed the thing back to me, there wasn't enough in 

94 



it to make it worth my while putting it in my pocket. What col- 
lected in one corner when I tilted it wouldn’t make even a drink 
for a high-school girl. “You sure you don’t want to finish it?” I 
asked in mock politeness. 

He shook his head in a dazed sort of way, said, ‘'No, thanks,” 
and then shivered like a man with a hard chill. 

So I took what was left, and threw the empty pint bottle out o£ 
the window. 

“Drive in as close as you can,” I told the boy at the wheel. 

He got in pretty close, and I got out and gave Willie a hand, and 
paid the kid off. Then Willie and I drifted slowly over the brown 
and trodden grass toward a platform, while the crowd about us was 
as nothing and Willie’s eyes were on far horizons and the band 
played “Casey Jones.” 

I left Willie in the lee of the platform, standing all alone in a 
space of brown grass in a strange country with a dream on his face 
and the sun beating down on him. 

I found Duffy, and said, “I’m ready to make delivery, but I want 
a receipt.” 

“What’s the matter with him?” Duffy wanted to know. “The 
bastard doesn’t drink. Is he drunk?” 

“He never touches the stuff,” I said. “It’s just he’s been on the 
road to Damascus and he saw a great light and he’s got the blind 
staggers.” 

* “What’s the matter with him?” 

“You ought to read the Good Book more,” I told Duffy, and led 
him to the candidate. It was a touching reunion. So I melted into 
the throng. 

There was quite a crowd, for the scent of burning meat on the 
air will do wonders. The folks wfere beginning to collect around 
in front of the platform, and climb up in the grandstand. The local 
band was standing over to one side of the platform, now working 
over “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.” On the platform were the 
two local boys who didn’t have any political future, who had come 
to the hotel that morning, and another fellow who was by my 
guess a preacher to offer up a prayer, and Duffy. And there was 
Willie, sweating slow. They sat in a row of chairs across the back 
of the platform, in front of the bunting-draped backdrop, and be- 
hind a bunting-draped table on which was a big pitcher of water 
and a couple of glasses. 

One of the local boys got up first and addressed his friends and 
neighbors and introduced the preacher who addressed God-Al- 
mighty with his gaunt rawboned f^ce lifted up above the blue 

95 



serge and his eyes squinched into the blazing light. Then the first 
local boy got up and worked around to introducing the second 
local boy. It looked for a while as though the second local boy was 
the boy with the button after all, for he was, apparently, built for 
endurance and not speed, but it turned out tliat he didn’t really 
have the button any more than the first local boy or the preacher 
or God-Almighty. It just took him longer to admit that he didn’t 
have it and to put the finger on Willie. 

Then Willie stood all alone by the table, saying, ‘'My friends,” 
and turning his alabaster face precariously from one side to the 
other, and fumbling in the right side pocket of his coat to fish out 
the speech. 

While he was fumbling with the sheets, and looking down at 
them with a slightly bemused expression as though the stuff before 
him were in a foreign language, somebody tugged at my sleeve. 
There was Sadie. 

“How was it?” she asked. 

“Take a look and guess,” I replied. 

She gave a good look up to the platform, and then asked, “How’d 
you do it?” 

“Hair of the dog.” 

She looked up to the platform again. “Hair, hell,” she said, “he 
must have swallowed the dog.” 

I inspected Willie, who stood up there sweating and swaying and 
speechless, under the hot sun. 

“He’s on the ropes,” Sadie said. 

“Hell, he’s been on ’em all morning,” I said, “and lucky to have 
em. 

She was still looking at him. I^ was much the way she had looked 
at him the night before when he lay on the bed in my room, out 
cold, and she stood by the side of the bed. It wasn’t pity and it 
wasn’t contempt. It was an ambiguous, speculative look. Then she 
said, “Maybe he was born on ’em.” 

She said it in a tone which seemed to imply that she had settled 
that subject. But she kept on looking up there at him in the same 
way. 

The candidate could still stand, at least with one thigh propped 
against the table. He had begun to talk by this time, too. He had 
called them his friends in two or three ways and had said he was 
glad to be there. Now he stood there clutching die manuscript in 
both hands, with his head lowered like a dehorned cow beset by 
a couple of fierce dogs in the barnyard, while the sun beat on him 

96 



and the sweat dropped. Then he took a grip on himself, and lifted 
his head. 

have a speech here/* he said. "It is a speech about what this 
state needs. But there’s no use telling you what this state needs. 
You are the state. You know what you need. Look at your pants. 
Have they got holes in the knee? Listen to your belly. Did it ever 
rumble for emptiness? Look at your crop. Did it ever rot in the 
field because the road was so bad you couldn’t get it to market? 
Look at your kids. Are they growing up ignorant as you and dirt 
because there isn’t any school for them?” 

Willie paused, and blinked around at the crowd. "No,” he said, 
"I’m not going to read you any speech. You know what you need 
better’n I could tell you. But I’m going to tell you a story.” 

And he paused, steadied himself by the table, and took a deep 
breath while the sweat dripped. 

I leaned toward Sadie. "What the hell’s the bugger up to?” I 
asked. 

"Shut up,” she commanded, watching him. 

He began again. "It’s a funny story,” he said. "Get ready to 
laugh. Get ready to bust your sides for it is sure a funny story. It’s 
about a hick. It’s about a red-neck, like you all, if you please. 
Yeah, like you. He grew up like any other mother’s son on the dirt 
roads and gully washes of a north-state farm. He knew all about 
being a hick. He knew what it was to get up before day and get 
cow dung between his toes and feed and slop and milk before 
breakfast so he could set off by sunup to walk six miles to a one- 
room, slab-sided schoolhouse. He knew what it was to pay high 
taxes for that windy shack of a schoolhouse and those gully-washed 
red-clay roads to walk over— or to break his wagon axle or string- 
halt his mules on. 

"Oh, he knew what it was to be a hick, summer and winter. He 
figured if he wanted to do anything he had to do it himself. So he 
sat up nights and studied books and studied law so maybe he could 
do something about changing things. He didn’t study that law 
in any man’s school or college. He studied it nights after a hard 
day’s work in the field. So he could change things some. For him- 
self and for folks like him. I am not lying to you. He didn’t start 
out thinking about all the other hicks and how he was going to do 
wonderful things for them. He started ’out thinking of number one, 
but something came to him on the way. How he could not do‘ 
something for himself and not for other folks or for himself without 
the help of other folks. It was going to be all together or none. 
That came to him. 


97 



"And it came to him with the powerful force of God’s own lights 
ning on a tragic time back in his own home county two years ago 
when the first brick schoolhouse ever built in his county collapsed 
because it was built of politics-rotten brick, and it killed and 
mangled a dozen poor little scholars. Oh, you know that story. He 
had fought the politics back of building that schoolhouse of rotten 
brick but he lost and it fell. But it started him thinking. Next time 
would be different. 

"People were his friends because he had fought that rotten brick. 
And some of the public leaders down in<-the city knew that and 
they rode up to his pappy’s place in a big fine car and said how 
they wanted him to run for Governor.” 

I plucked Sadie’s arm. "You think he’s going to—” 

"Shut up,” she said savagely. 

I looked toward Duffy up there on the platform back of Willie. 
Duffy’s face was worried. It was red and round and sweating, and 
it was worried. 

"Oh, they told him,” Willie was saying, "and that hick swal- 
lowed it. He looked in his heart and thought he might try to change 
things. In all humility he thought how he might try. He was just 
a human, country boy, who believed like we have always believed 
back here in the hills that even the plainest, poorest fellow can be 
Governor if his fellow citizens find he has got the stuff and the 
character for the job. 

"Those fellows in the striped pants saw the hick’ and they took 
him in. They said how MacMurfee was a limber-back and a dead- 
head and how Joe Harrison was the tool of the city machine, and 
how they wanted that hick to step in and try to give some honest 
government. They told him that. But—” Willie stopped, and lifted 
his right hand clutching the manuscript to high heaven— "do you 
know who they were? They were Joe Harrison’s hired hands and 
lickspittles and they wanted to get a hick to run to split Mac- 
Murfee’s hick vote. Did I guess this? I did not. No, for I heard 
their sweet talk. And I wouldn’t know the truth this minute if 
that woman right there—” and he pointed down at Sadie— "if that 
woman right there—” 

I nudged Sadie and said, "Sister, you are out of a job.” 

"—if that fine woman right there hadn’t been honest enough 
and decent enough to tell the foul truth which stinks in the nostrils 
of the Most High!” 

Duffy was on his feet, edging uncertainly toward the front of 
the platform. He kept looking desperately toward the band as 
though he might signal them to burst into music and then at the 

98 



crowd as though he were trying to think of something to say. Thei^ 
he edged toward Willie and said something to him. 

But the words, whatever they were, were scarcely out of his 
mouth before Willie had turned on him. “Therel” Willie roared. 
‘'There !’* And he waved his right hand, the hand clutching the 
manuscript of his speech, "There is the Judas Iscariot, the lick- 
spittle, the nose-wiper!’* 

And Willie waved his right arm at«J)uffy, clutching the manu- 
script which he had not read. Duffy was trying to say something 
to him, but Willie wasn’t hearing it, for he was waving the manu- 
script under Duffy’s retreating nose and shouting, "Look at him! 
Look at him!” 

Duffy, still retreating, looked toward the band and waved his 
arms at them and shouted, "Play, play! Play the ‘Star-Spangled 
Banner’!” 

But the band didn’t play. And just then as DufiEy turned back to 
Willie, Willie made a more than usually energetic pass of the flut- 
tering manuscript under Duffy’s nose and shouted, "Look at him, 
Joe Harrison’s dummy!” 

Duffy shouted, "It’s a lie!” and stepped back from the accusing 
arm. 

I don’t know whether Willie meant to do it. But anyway, he did 
it. He didn’t exactly shove Duffy off the platform. He just started 
Duffy doing a dance along the edge, a kind of delicate, feather- 
toed, bemused, slow-motion adagio accompanied by arms pinwheel- 
ing around a face which was like a surprised custard pie with a 
hole scooped in the middle of the meringue, and the hole was 
Duffy’s mouth, but no sound came out of it. There wasn’t a sound 
over that five-acre tract of sweating humanity. They just watched 
Duffy do his dance. 

Then he danced right off the platform. He broke his fall and 
half lay, half sat, propped against the bottom of the platform with 
his mouth still open. No sound came out of it now, for there wasn’t 
any breath to make a sound. 

All of that, and me without a camera. 

Willie hadn’t even bothered to look over the edge. "Let the hog 
lie!” he shouted. "Let the hog lie, and listen to me, you hicks. Yeah, 
you’re hicks, too, and they’ve fooled you, too, a thousand times, 
just like they fooled me. For that’s what they think we’re for. To 
fool. Well, this time I'm going to fool somebody. I’m getting out 
of this race. You know why?” 

He paused and wiped the sweat off his face with his left hand, 
a fiat scouring motion. 

m 



'‘Not because my little feelings are hurt. They aren't hurt, I 
never felt better in my life, because now I know the truth. Wxat 
I ought to known long back. Whatever a hick wants he's got to do 
for himself. Nobody in a fine automobile and sweet- talking is going 
to do it for him. When I come back to run for Governor again, I’m 
coming on my own and I’m coming for blood. But I’m getting out 
now. 

“I'm resigning in favor of MacMurfee. By God, everything I’ve 
said about MacMurfee stands and I’ll say it again, but I’m going 
to stump this state for him. Me and the other hicks, we are going 
to kill Joe Harrison so dead he’ll never even run for dogcatcher 
in this state. Then we’ll see what MacMurfee does. This is his last 
chance. The time has come. The truth is going to be told and I’m 
going to tell it. I’m going to tell it over this state from one end to 
the other if I have to ride the rods or steal me a mule to do it, and 
no man, Joe Harrison or any other man, can stop me. For I got 
me a gospel and I—” 

I leaned to Sadie. “Listen,” I said, “I’ve got to get on a telephone. 
I'm starting to town or the first telephone I hit. I got to telephone 
this in. You stay here and for God’s sake remember what happens.” 

“Ail right,” she said, not paying much mind to me. 

“And nab Willie when it’s over and bring him to town. It*s a 
sure thing Duffy won’t ask you to ride with him. You nab the sap, 
and—” 

“Sap, hell,” she said. And added, “You go on.” 

I went. I worked around the edge of the grandstand, through the 
crowd, with the sound of Willie's voice hammering on the eardrums 
and shaking dead leaves off the oak trees. As I rounded the end 
of tlie gi'andstand, I looked back and there was Willie flinging the 
sheets of his manuscript from him so they swirled about his feet 
and beating on his chest and shouting how the truth was there 
and didn’t iteed writing down. There he was, with the papers about 
his feet and one arm up, the coat sleeve jammed elbow high, face 
red as a bruised beet and the sweat sluicing, hair over his forehead, 
eyes bugged out and shining, drunk as a hoot owl, and behind 
him the bunting, red-white-and-blue, and over him God’s bright, 
brassy, incandescent sky. 

1 walked down the gravel road a piece and hitched a ride on a 
truck to town. 

That night when all was still and the train bearing Duffy back 
to the city (to report, no doubt, to Joe Harrison) was puffing across 
the sage country under the stars and Willie had been in bed for 

lOQ 



hours sleeping off the fumes, I reached for the bottle on the writing 
table in my room at the hotel in Upton and said to Sadie, “How 
about a little more of the stuff that let the bars down and' kicked 
the boards loose?"' 

“What?” she asked. 

“You would not understand that to which I so grammatically 
refer,” I said, and poured the drink for her. 

“Oh, I forgot,” she said, “you're the fellow who went to college/ 

Yes, I was the fellow who had gone so grammatically to college, 
where I had not learned, I decided, all there was to know. 

Willie kept his word. He stumped the state for MacMurfee. 
didn't ride the rods or buy him a mule or steal him one. But hr 
drove the pants off his pretty good secondhand car over the wash- 
board and through the hub-deep dust and got mired in the black 
gumbo when a rain came and sat in his car waiting for the span 
of mules to come and pull him out. He stood on schoolhouse steps, 
and on the top of boxes borrowed from the dry-goods store and on 
the seats of farm wagons and on the porches of crossroads stores, 
and talked. “Friends, red-necks, suckers, and fellow hicks,” he 
would say, leaning forward, leaning at them, looking at them. And 
he would pause, letting the words sink in. And in the quiet the 
crowd would be restless and resentful under these words, the words 
they knew people called them but the words nobody ever got up 
and called them to their face. “Yeah,” he would say, “yeah,” and 
twist his mouth on the word, “that's what you are, and you needn't 
get mad at me for telling you. Well, get mad, but I'm telling you. 
That's what you are. And me~I'm one, too. Oh, I'm a red-neck, 
for the sun has beat down on me. Oh, I'm a sucker, for I fell for 
that sweet-talking fellow in the fine automobile. Oh, I took the 
sugar tit and hushed my crying. Oh, I'm a hick and I am the hick 
they were going to try to use and split the hick vote. But I'm stand- 
ing here on my own hind legs, for even a dog can learn to do that, 
give him time. I learned. It took me a time but I learned, and here 
I ant* on my own hind legs.” And he would lean at them. And 
demand, “Are you, are you on your hind legs? Have you learned 
that much yet? You think you can learn that much?” 

He told them things they didn't like. He called them the names 
they didn't like to be called, but always, almost always, the rest- 
lessness and resentment died and he leaned at them with his eyes 
bugging and his face glistening in the hot sunlight or the red light 
of a gasoline flare. They listened while he told them to stand on 
their own hind legs. Go and vote, he told them. Vote for Mac- 

101 



Murfee this time, he told them, for he is all you have got to vote 
for. But vote strong, strong enough to show what you can do. Vote 
him in and then if he doesn't deliver, nail up his hide. “Yeah,'* 
he would say, leaning, “yeah, nail him up if he don’t deliver. Hand 
me the hammer and I’ll nail him.” Vote, he told them. Put Mac* 
Murfee on the spot, he told them. 

He leaned at them and said, “Listen to me, you hicks. Listen 
here and lift up your eyes and look on the God’s blessed and unfiy- 
blown truth. If you’ve got the brain of a sapsucker left and can 
recognize the truth when you see it. This is the truth: you are a 
hick and nobody ever helped a hick but the hick himself. Up there 
in town they won’t help you. It is up to you and God, and God 
helps those who help themselves I” 

He gave thern that, and they stood there in front of him, with a 
thumb hooked in the overall strap, and the eyes under the pulled* 
down hat brim squinting at him as though he were something spied 
across a valley or cove, something they weren’t quite easy in the 
mind about, too far away to make out good, or a sudden movement 
in the brush seen way off yonder across the valley or across the 
field and something might pop out of the brush, and under the 
eyes the jaw revolving worked the quid with a slow, punctilious, 
immitigable motion,* like historical process. And Time is nothing 
to a hog, or to History, either. They watched him, and if you 
watched close you might be able to see something beginning to 
happen. They stand so quiet, they don’t even shift from one foot 
to the other—they've got a talent for being quiet, you can see them 
stand on the street corner when they come to town, not moving or 
talking, or see one of them squatting on his heels by the road, just 
looking off where the road drops over the hill— and their squinched 
eyes don’t flicker off the man up there in front of them. They’ve 
got a talent for being quiet. But sometimes the quietness stops. It 
snaps all of a sudden, like a piece of string pulled tight. One of 
them sits quiet on the bench, at the brush-arbor revival, listening, 
and all of a sudden he jumps up and lifts up his arms and yells, 
“Oh, Jesus! I have seen His name!” Or one of them presses his 
finger on the trigger, and the sound of the gun smrprises even him. 

Willie is up there. In the sun, or in the red light of the gasoline 
flare. “You ask me what my program is. Here it is, you hicks. And 
don’t you forget it. Nail ’em up! Nail up Joe Harrison, Nail up 
anybody who stands in your way. Nail up MacMurfee if he don’t 
deliver. Nail up anybody who stands in your way. You hand me 
the hammer and I’ll do it with my own hand. Nail ’em up on the 

102 



barn door I And don’t fan away the bluebottles with any turkey 
wing!” 

It was Willie, all right. It was the fellow with the same name. 

MacMurfee w^s elected. Willie had something to do with it, for 
the biggest vote was polled in the sections Willie had worked that 
they had any record of. But all the time MacMurfee didn't quite 
know what to make of Willie. He shied off him at first, for Willie 
had said some pretty hard things about him, and then when it did 
look as though Willie would make an impression, he shilly-shallied. 
And in the end Willie got up on his hind legs and said how the 
MacMurfee people were offering to pay his expenses but he was on 
his own, he wasn’t MacMurfee's man, even if he was saying to vote 
for MacMurfee. He was paying his way, he said, even if he had to 
put another mortgage on his pappy's farm and the last one it would 
hold. Yes, and if there was anybody who couldn't afford two dollars 
to pay his poll tax and came to him and said it straight out, he, 
Willie Stark, would pay tliat tax out of money he had got by 
mortgaging his pappy's farm. That was how much he believed in 
what he was saying. 

MacMurfee was in, and Willie went back to Mason City and 
practiced law. He must have dragged on for a year or so, handling 
chicken-stealing cases and stray-hog cases and cutting scrapes (which 
are part of tlie entertainment at Saturday-night square dances in 
Mason County). Then a gang of workmen got hurt when some of 
the rig collapsed on a bridge the state was building over the Acka- 
mulgee River, and two or three got killed. A lot of the workmen 
were from Mason County and they got Willie for their lawyer. He 
got all over the papers for that. And he won the case. Then they 
struck oil just west of Mason County over in Ackamulgee County, 
and in that section Willie got mixed up in the litigation between 
an oil company and some independent leaseholders. Willie's side 
won, and he saw folding money for the first time in his life. He saw 
quite a lot of it. 

During all that time I didn't see Willie. I didn't see him again 
until he announced in the Democratic primary in 1930. But it 
wasn't a primary. It was hell among the yearlings and the Charge 
of the Light Brigade and Saturday night in the back room of 
Casey's saloon rolled into one, and when the smoke cleared away 
not a picture still hung on the walls. And there wasn't any Demo- 
cratic party. There was just Willie, with his hair in his eyes and his 
shirt sticking to his stomach with sweat. And he had a meat ax in 
his hand and was screaming for blood. In the background of the 
picture, under a purplish tumbled sky flecked with sinister white 

lOS 



like driven foam, flanking Willie, one on each side, tvere two figures, 
Sadie Burke and a tallish, stooped, slow-spoken man with a sad, 
tanned face and what they call the eyes of a dreamer. The man was 
Hugh Miller, Harvard Law School, Lafayette Escadrille, Croix de 
Guerre, clean hands, pure heart, and no political past. He was a 
fellow who had sat still for years, and then somebody (Willie Stark) 
handed him a baseball bat and he felt his fingers close on the tape. 
He was a man and was Attorney General. And Sadie Burke was 
just Sadie Burke. 

Over the brow of the hill, there were, of course, some other peo- 
ple. There were, for instance, certain gentlemen who had once 
been devoted to Joe Harrison, but who, when they discovered that 
there wasn't going to be any more Joe Harrison politically speak- 
ing, had had to hunt up a new friend. The new friend happened 
to be Willie. He was the only place for them to go. They figured 
they would sign on with Willie and grow up with the country, 
Willie signed them on, all right, and as a result got quite a few 
votes not of the wool-hat and cocklebur variety. After a while, 
Willie even signed on Tiny Duffy, who became Highway Commis- 
sioner and, later. Lieutenant Governor in Willie's last term. I used 
to wonder why Willie kept him around. Sometimes I used to ask 
the Boss, *'What do you keep that lunk-head for?" Sometimes he 
would just laugh and say nothing. Sometimes he would say, “Hell, 
somebody’s got to be Lieutenant Governor, and they all look 
alike." But once he said: “I keep him because he reminds me of 
something." 

-What?" 

“Something I don’t ever want to forget,” he said. 

“Whales that?" 

“That when they come to you sweet talking you better not listen 
to anything they say. I don’t aim to forget that." 

So that was it. Tiny was the fellow who had come in a big auto- 
mobile and had talked sweet to Willie back when Willie was a 
little country lawyer. 

But was that it? Or rather, was that all of it? I figured there was 
another reason. The Boss must have taken a kind of pride in the 
fact that he could make Tiny Duffy a success. He had busted Tiny 
Duffy and then he had picked up the pieces and put him back 
together again as his own creation. He must have taken a lot of 
pleasure in looking at Tiny’s glittering rig and diamond ring, and 
thinking that it was all hollow, that it was a sham, that if he should 
crook his little finger Tiny Duffy would disappear like a whiff of 
^moke. In a way, the very success which the Boss laid on Tiny was 

104 



his revenge on Tiny, for every time the Boss put his meditative, 
sleepy, distant gaze on Tiny, Tiny would know, with a cold clutch 
at his fat heart, that if the Boss should crook a finger there wouIdn*t 
be anything but the whiff of smoke. In a way. Tiny's success was 
a final index of the Boss's own success. 

But was that it? In the end, I decided that there w^as one more 
reason behind the other reasons. This: Tiny Duffy became, in a 
crazy kind of way, the other self of Willie Stark, and all the con- 
tempt and insult which Willie Stark was to heap on Tiny Duffy 
was nothing but what one self of Willie Stark did to the other self 
because of a blind, inward necessity. But I came to that conclusion 
only at the very end, a long time afterwards. 

But now Willie had just become Governor and nobody knew 
what would come afterwards. 

And meanwhile—while the campaign was on—I was out of a job. 

My job had been political reporting for the Chronicle. I had a 
column, too. I was a pundit. 

One day Jim Madison had me in to stand on the Kelly-green 
.carpet which surrounded his desk like a pasture. ''Jack/' he said, 
"you know what the Chronicle line is in this election." 

"Sure," I replied, "it wants to elect Sam MacMurfee again be- 
cause of his brilliant record as an administrator and his high in- 
tegrity as a statesman." 

He grinned a little sourly and said, "It wants to elect Sam Mac- 
Murfee." 

"I’m sorry I forgot we were in the bosom of the family. I thought 
I was writing my column." 

The grin went off his face. He played with a pencil on his desk. 
"It's about the column I wanted to see you," he said. 

"O.K.." I replied. 

"Can’t you put some more steam in it? This is an election and 
not a meeting of the Epworth League." 

"It is an election, all right." 

"Can’t you give it a little more?" 

"When what you got to work with is Sam MacMurfce," I said, 
"you haven’t even got a sow’s ear to make a silk purse out of. I’m 
doing what I can." 

He brooded over that for a minute. Then he began, "Now just 
because that Stark happens to be a friend of yours, you-" 

"He's no friend of mine," I snapped. "I didn't even see him be- 
tween last election and this one. Personally, I don't care who is 
ever Governor of this state or how big a son-of-a-bitch he is. But 
I am a hired hand, and I do my best to suppress in my column my 

105 



burning conviction that Sam MacMurfee is one of the fanciest 
sons-of— '' 

*Tou know the Chronicle line/' Jim Madison said heavily and 
studied the spit-slick, chewed butt of his cigar. 

It was a hot day, and the breeze from the electric fan was all 
on Jim Madison and not on me, and there was a little thread of 
acid, yellow-feeling saliva down in my throat, the kind you get 
when your stomach is sour, and my head felt like a dried gourd 
with a couple of seeds rattling around in it. So I looked at Jim 
Madison, and said, ''All right." 

"What do you mean?" he asked. 

"I mean it the way I said it,” I said, and started for the door. 

"Look here. Jack, I'm—" he began, and 'laid the cigar butt down 
on the ash tray. 

"I know," I said, "you've got a wife and kids and your boy’s in 
Princeton.” 

I said that and kept on walking. 

There was a water cooler outside the door, in the hall, and I 
stopped by it and took one of the little cone-shaped cups and drank 
about ten of them full of ice water to wash the yellow thing out 
of my throat. Then I stood there in the hall with my stomach full 
of the water like a cold bulb inside of me. 

I could sleep late, and then wake up and not move, just watch- 
ing the hot, melted-butter-colored sunlight pour through the 
cracks in the shade, for my hotel was not the best in town and my 
room was not the best in the hotel. As my chest rose and fell with 
my breathing, the sheet would stick damply to my bare hide, for 
that is the way you sleep there in the summertime. I could hear 
the streetcars and the biatting of automobile horns off yonder, not 
too loud but variegated and unremitting, a kind of coarse, hoarse 
tweedy mixture of sounds to your nerve ends, and occasionally the 
clatter of dishes, for my room gave on the kitchen area. And now 
and then a nigger would sing a snatch down there. 

I could lie there as long as I wanted, and let all the pictures of 
things a man might want run through my head, coffee, a girl, 
money, a drink, white sand and blue water, and let them all slide 
off, one after another, like a deck of cards slewing slowly off youi 
hand. Maybe the things you want are like cards. You don't want 
them for themselves, really, though you think you dS. You don't 
want a card because you want the card, but because in a perfectly 
arbitrary system of rules and values and in a special combination 
of which you already hold a part the card has meaning. But sup- 

106 



pose you aren’t sitting in a game. Then, even if you do know the 
rules, a card doesn’t mean a thing. They all look alike. 

So I could lie there, though I knew* that 1 would get up after a 
spell— not deciding to get up but just all at once finding myself 
standing in the middle of the floor just as later on I would find 
myself, with a mild shock of recognition, taking coffee, changing 
a bill, handling a girl, drawing on a drink, floating in the water. 
Like an amnesia case playing solitaire in a hospital. I would get 
up and deal myself a hand, all right. Later on. But for the present 
I would lie there and know I didn’t have to get up, and feel the 
holy emptiness and blessed fatigue of a saint after the dark night 
of the soul. For God and Nothing have^a lot in common. You look 
either one of Them straight in the eye for a second and the imme- 
diate effect on the* human constitution is tlie same. 

Lots of nights I would go to bed early, too. Sometimes sleep gets 
to be a serious and complete thing. You stop going to sleep in order 
that you may be able to get up, but get up in order that you may 
be able to go back to sleep. You get so during the day you catch 
yourself suddenly standing still and waiting and listening. You are 
like a little boy at the railroad station, ready to go away on the 
train, which hasn’t come yet. You look way up the track, but can’t 
see the little patch of black smoke yet. You fidget around, but all 
at once you stop in the middle of your fidgeting, and listen. You 
can’t hear it yet. Then you go and kneel down in your Sunday 
clothes in the cinders, for which your mother is going to snatch 
you bald-headed, and put your ear to the rail and listen for the 
first soundless rustle which will come in the rail long before the 
little black patch begins to grow on the sky. You get so you listen 
for night, long before it comes over the horizon, and long, long 
before it comes charging and stewing and thundering to you like 
a big black locomotive and the black cars grind to a momentary 
stop and the porter with the black, shining face helps you up the 
steps, and says, “Yassuh, little boss, yassuh.” 

You don’t dream in that kind of sleep, but you are aware of it 
every minute you are asleep, as though you were having a long 
dream of sleep itself, and in that sleep you were dreaming of sleep, 
sleeping and dreaming of sleep infinitely inward into the center. 

That was the way it was for a while after I didn’t have any job. 
It wasn’t new. It had been like that before, twice before. I had 
even given a name to it— The Great Sleep. The time before I quit 
the University, just a few months before I was supposed to finish 
my dissertation for the Ph.D. in American History. It was almost 
finished, and they said it was O.K. The sheets of typed-on paper 

107 



ivere stacked up on the table by the typewriter. The boxes o£ cards 
were there. I would get up late in the morning and see them there, 
the top sheet of paper beginning to curl up around the paper- 
weight. And Td see them there when I came in after supper to go 
to bed. Finally, one morning I got up late and went out the door 
and didn’t come back and left them there. And the other time the 
Great Sleep had come was the time before I walked out of the apar* 
ment and Lois started to get the divorce. 

But this time there wasn’t any American History and there 
wasn’t any Lois. But there was the Great Sleep. 

When I did get up I just piddled around. I went to movies and 
hung around speak-easies and went swimming or went out to the 
country club and lay on the grass and watched a couple of hot 
bastards swing rackets at a little white ball that flashed in the sun. 
Or perhaps one of the players would be a girl and the short white 
skirt would swirl and whip about her brown thighs, and flash in 
the sun, too. 

A few times I went to see Adam Stanton at his apartment, the 
fellow I had grown up with at Burden’s Landing. He was a hot- 
shot surgeon now, with more folks sa'eaming for him to cut on 
them than he had time to cut on, and a professor at the University 
Medical School, and busy grinding out the papers he published 
in the scientific journals or took off to read at meetings in New 
York and Baltimore and London. He wasn’t married. He didn’t 
have time, he said. He didn’t have time for anything. But he’d 
take a little time to let me sit in a shabby overstuffed chair in 
his shabby apartment, where papers were stacked around and the 
colored girl had streaked the dust on the furniture. I used to won- 
der why he lived the way he did when he must have been having 
quite a handsome take, but 1 finally got it through my head that 
he didn’t ask anything from a lot of the folks he cut on. He had 
the name of a softy in the trade. And after he got money, people 
took him for it if they had a story that would halfway wash. The 
only thing in his apartment that was worth a plugged nickel was 
the piano, and it was the best money could buy. 

Most of the time when I was at Adam’s apartment he would be 
at the piano. I have heard it said that he was pretty good, but I 
wouldn’t know. But I didn’t mind listening, not if the chair was 
good and comfortable. Adam must have heard me say one time or 
another that music didn’t mean much to me, but I suppose that 
he’d forgotten it or couldn’t believe that it was true for anybody. 
Anyway, he would turn his head at me and say, '‘This— now listen 
to this— my God, this now is sure a—” But his voice would trail 

108 



off and the words which were going to tell what the thing sure and 
eternally was in its blessed truth would not ever get said. He would 
just leave the sentence hanging and twisting slowly in the air like 
a piece of frayed rope, and would look at me out of his clear, deep- 
set, ice-water-blue, abstract eyes— the kind of eyes and the kind of 
look your conscience has about three o’clock in the morning— and 
then, unlike your conscience, he would begin to smile, not much, 
just a sort of tentative, almost apologetic smile that took the curse 
off that straight mouth and square jaw, and seemed to say, *‘Hell, 
I can’t help it if I look at you that way, buddy, it’s just the way 
I look at things.” Then the smile would be gone, and he would 
turn his face to the piano and set his hands to the keys. 

Sooner or later he would get enough of the music and would 
drop into one of the other shabby chairs. Or he might remember 
to get me a drink, or might even take one himself, paler than winter 
sunlight and about as strong. We’d sit there, not talking, sipping 
slow, his eyes burning cold and blue in his head, bluer because of 
the swarthiness of the skin, which was drawn back taut over the 
bones of the face. It was like when we used to go fishing, when we 
were kids, back at Burden’s Landing. We used to sit in the boat, 
under the hot sun, hour after hour, and never a word. Or lie on the 
beach. Or go camping together and after supper lie by a little 
smudge fire for the mosquitoes, and never say a word. 

Perhaps Adam didn’t mind taking a little time out for me be- 
cause I made him think back to Burden’s Landing and the other 
days. Not that he talked about it. But once he did. He was sitting 
in the chair, looking down at the eyewash in the glass which his- 
long, hard-looking, nervous fingers were slowly revolving. Then he 
looked up at me, and said, *‘We used to have a pretty good time,, 
didn’t we? When we were kids.” 

“Yeah,” I said. 

“You and me and Anne,” he said. 

“Yeah,” I said, and thought of Anne. Then I said, “Don’t you. 
have a good time now?” 

He seemed to take the question under advisement for a half 
minute, as though I had asked him a real question, which maybe it 
was. Then he said, “Weil, I don’t suppose I ever thought about it.” 
Then, “No, I don’t suppose I ever thought about it.” 

“Don’t you have a good time?” I asked. “And you a big-shot* 
Don’t you have a good time being a big-shot?” I didn’t let go. I 
knew it was a question you haven’t got any right to ask anybody,, 
not with the tone of voice I heard coming out of my mouth, but 
I couldn’t let go. You grow up with somebody, and he is a success,. 

109 



a big-shot, and you’re a failure, but he treats you just the way he 
always did and hasn’t changed a bit. But that is what drives you 
to it, no matter what names you call yourself while you try to 
stick the knife in. There is a kind of snobbery of failure. It’s a 
club, it’s the old school, it’s Skull and Bones, and there is no nasty 
supercilious twist to a mouth like the twist the drunk gets when 
he hangs over the bar beside the old pal who has turned out to be 
a big-shot and who hasn’t changed a bit, or when the old pal 
takes him home to dinner and introduces him to the pretty little 
clear-eyed woman and the healthy kids. There wasn’t any pretty 
little woman in Adam’s shabby apartment, but he was a big-shot, 
and I let him have it. 

But it didn’t register on him. He simply turned on me the can- 
did, blue gaze, slightly shaded by thought now, and said, “It just 
isn’t something I ever thought about.’’ Then the smile did the 
trick to the mouth which under ordinary circumstances looked like 
a nice, clean, decisive surgical wound, well healed and no pucker. 

So I tried to make what amends I could for being what I was, 
and pulled out the soft-and-sweet stop, and said, “Yeah, we did 
have a good time when we were kids, you and Anne and me.” 

Yes, Adam Stanton, Anne Stanton, and Jack Burden, back in 
Burden’s Landing, had a good time when they were children by 
the sea. A squall might, and did, pile in off the Gulf, and the sky 
blacked out with the rain and the palm trees heaved in distraction 
and then leaned steady with the vanes gleaming like wet tin in the 
last turgid, bilious, tattered light, but it didn’t chill us or kill us 
in the kingdom by the sea, for we were safe inside a white house, 
their house or my house, and stood by the window to watch the 
surf pile up beyond the sea wall like whipped cream. And back 
in the room behind us would be Governor Stanton or Mr. Ellis 
Burden, or both, for they were friends, or Judge Irwin, for he was 
a friend, too, and there wasn’t a wind that would ever have the 
nerve to bother Governor Stanton or Mr. Ellis Burden or Judge 
Irwin. 

“You and Anne and me,” Adam Stanton had said to me, and I 
had said it to him. So one morning, after I had managed to get out 
of bed, I called Anne up, and said, “I hadn’t thought about yoti 
in a long time, but the other night I saw Adam and he said you 
and he and I used to have a good time when we were kids. So how 
about having dinner with me? Even if we are on crutches now.” 
She said she would. She certainly wasn’t on crutches, but we didn’t 
have any fun. 

She asked me what I was doing, and I told her, “Not a blessed 

110 



thing. Just waiting for my cash to run out.** She didn*t tell me I 
ought to do something, and didn*t even look it. Which was some- 
thing, So I asked her what she was doing, and she laughed and 
said, *‘Not a blessed thing.*’ Which I knew was a lie, for she was 
always fooling around with orphans and half-wits and blind nig- 
gers, and not even getting paid for it. And looking at her you could 
know it w*as all a waste of something and i^he something wasn’t 
money. So I said, “Well, I hope you’re doing it in pleasant com- 
pany.” 

“Not particularly,” she said. 

I looked at her close and saw what I knew I would see and what 
I had seen a good many times when she wasn’t sitting across from 
me. I saw Anne Stanton, who was not exactly a beauty maybe but 
who was Anne Stanton. Anne Stanton: the brown-toned, golden- 
lighted face, not as dark as Adam’s, with a hint of the positive 
structure beneath the skin, which was drawn over the bone with 
something, a suggestion, of the tension which was in Adam’s face, 
as though the fabricator of the job hadn’t wanted to waste any 
material in softnesses and slacknesses and had stylized the product 
pretty cleanly. The dark hair drawn smoothly, almost tautly, away 
from the accurate part. The blue eyes which looked at you like 
Adam’s eyes, with the same directness, but in which the clear, ab- 
stract, ice-blue was replaced by a deeper, coiling, troubled blue. 
Sometimes, anyway. They looked alike, Adam and Anne. They 
might have been twins. They even had the same smile. But the 
mouth it came on was, in Anne’s case, different. It didn’t carry any 
suggestion of the nice, clean, decisive, well-healed surgical wound. 
The fabricator had, on this item, allowed himself the luxury of a 
little extra material. Not too much. But enough. 

That was Anne Stanton, and I saw what I knew I would see. 

She sat there before me, very erect, with her head held high and 
straight on the fine, round stalk of her neck above the small, squar- 
ish shoulders, and with her rather small but roundly modeled bare 
arms laid close to her sides in mathematical accuracy. And looking 
at her, I thought how, below the level of the table, her small legs 
would be laid accurately together, thigh to thigh, knee to knee, 
ankle to ankle. There was, in fact, always something a little stylized 
about her—something of the effect one observes in certain Egyptian 
bas-reliefs and statuettes of princesses of a late period, forms in 
which grace and softness, without being the less grace or softness, 
are caught in mathematical formality. Anne Stanton always looked 
level at you, and you had the feeling that she was looking at some- 
thing far away. She always held her head high, and you had the 

111 



feeiing that she was waiting for a voice which you wouldn’t be able 
to hear. She always stood so trim and erect, and you had the feeling 
that ail hex grace and softness was caught in the rigor of an idea 
which you could not define. 

1 said, “You planning on being an old maid?” 

She laughed, and said, “Fm not planning on anything. I quit 
making plans a long time back.” 

We danced in die handkerchief-big space between the speak-easy 
tables, on which stood die plates of half-eaten spaghetd or chicken 
bones and the bottles of Dago red. For about five minutes the 
dancing had some value in itself, then it became very much like 
acting out some complicated and portentous business in a dream 
which seems to have a meaning but whose meaning you can’t fig- 
ure out. Then the music was over, and stopping dancing was like 
waking up from the dream, being glad to wake up and escape and 
yet distressed because now you won’t ever know what it had been 
all about. 

She must have felt the same way about it, for when, later, I asked 
her to dance again, she said that she didn’t feel like it, she’d rather 
talk. We talked, quite a lot, but it was a little bit like the dancing. 
You can’t keep on talking forever about what a hell of a good 
time you had when you w^ere kids. 

I took her to her apartment building, which was quite a few 
cuts above Adam’s joint, for Governor Stanton hadn’t died exactly 
a pauper, and left her in the lobby. She said good night, and, “Be 
a good boy, Jack.” 

“Will you have dinner with me again?” I asked her. 

“Any time you want,” she said, “any time in the world. You know 
that.” 

Yes, I knew it. 

And she did have dinner with me again, several times. The last 
time she said: “Fve seen your father.” 

“Yeah,” I said in an unencouraging way. 

“Don’t be like that,” she said. 

“Like what?” 

“Oh, you know what I mean,” she said. “Don’t you even want to 
know how he is?” 

“I know how he is,” I said. “He’s sitting in that hole he lives in 
down there or he’s helping round that niission with his bums, or 
writing those damn-fool little leaflets they pass out to you on the 
street, all about Mark 4:6, and Job 7:5, and his specs are down on 
the end of his nose and the dandruff is like a snowstorm in the 
Dakotas down on his black coat collar.” 

112 



she didn’t say anything for a minute, then said: saw him on 

the street and he didn’t look well. He looked sick. I didn’t recog- 
nize him at first.” 

“Trying to pass you some of that junk?” I asked. 

“Yes,” she said. “He held out a piece of paper to me, and I was 
in a hurry, so I just automatically put out my hand for it. Then 1 
realized he was staring right in my face. I didn’t recognize him at 
first.” She paused a little. “That was about two weeks back.” 

“I haven’t seen him in nearly a year,” I said. 

“Oh, Jack,” she said, “you oughtn’t do thatl You ought to see 
him.” 

“Look here, what can I say to him? And God knows, he hasn’t 
got anything to tell me. Nobody made him live like that. Nobody 
made him walk out of his law ofi&ce, either, and not even bother 
to shut tlie door behind him.” 

“But, Jack,” she said, “you—” 

“He’s doing what he wants to do. And besides if he was fool 
enough to do what he did just because he couldn’t get along with 
a woman— especially a woman like my mother. If he couldn’t give 
her what she wanted, whatever the hell it was she wanted and he 
couldn’t give her, then—” 

“Don’t talk like that,” she said sharply. 

“Look here,” I said, “just because your old man was Governor 
once and died in a mahogany tester bed with a couple of high- 
priced doctors leaning over him and adding up the bill in their 
heads and because you think he was Jesus Christ in a black string 
tie, you needn’t try to talk to me like an old woman. I’m not talk- 
ing about your family, I’m talking about mine, and I can’t help 
seeing the plain unvarnished truth. And if you—” 

“Well, you don’t have to talk to me about it,” she said. “Or any- 
body.” 

“It’s the truth.” 

“Oh, the truth,” she exclaimed, and clenched her right hand on 
the tablecloth. “How do you know it’s the truth? You don’t know 
anything about it. You don’t know what made them do what they 
did.” 

“I know the truth. I know what my mother is like. And you do, 
too. And I know my father was a fool to let her get him down.” 

“Don’t be so bitterl” she said, and reached out to seize my fore- 
arm and set her sharp fingers in it, through the coat, and shake it a 
little. 

“I’m not bitter. I don’t give a damn what they did. Or do. Or 



“Oh, Jack,** she said, still clutching my forearm, but not hard 
now, “can*t you love them a little, or forgive them, or just not 
think about them, or something? Something different from the way 
you are?'* 

“I could go for the rest of my life and not think about them,** I 
said. Then I noticed that she was shaking her head ever so little 
from side to side, and that her eyes were as dark a blue as they ever 
got and too bright, and that she had drawn in the edge of her lower 
lip and had set her teeth to it. I reached my right hand over and 
took her hand off my left forearm and laid it down flat, palm down, 
on the tablecloth, and covered it with my hand. “I'm sorry," I said. 

“You're not. Jack,** she said, “you're not sorry. Not really. You 
aren't ever sorry about anything. Or glad, either. You're just~oh, I 
don't know w^hat.” 

“I am sorry," I said. 

“Oh, you just think you are sorry. Or glad. You aren't really." 

“If you think you are sorry, who in the hell can tell you that you 
aren’t?" I demanded, for I was a brass-bound Idealist then, as I have 
stated, and was not going to call for a plebiscite on whether I was 
sorry or not. 

“That sounds all right," she said, “but it isn't. I don't know why 
—oh, yes, I do— if you’ve never been sorry or glad then you haven't 
got any way to know the next time whether you are or not." 

“All right," I said, “but can I tell you this: something is happen* 
ing inside me which I choose to call sorry?” 

“You can say it, but you don't know." Then, snatching her hand 
from under my hand, “Oh, you start to feel sorry or glad or some- 
thing but it just doesn't come to anything." 

“You mean like a little green apple that’s got a worm in it and 
falls off the tree before it ever gets ripe?" 

She laughed, and answered, “Yes, like little green apples with 
worms in them." 

“Well," I said, “here's a little green apple with a worm in it: I *m 
sorry." 

I was sorry, or what went for sorry in my lexicon. I was sorry that 
I had ruined the evening. But candor compelled me to admit that 
there hadn't been much of an evening to ruin. 

I didn’t ask her to go to dinner with me again, at least not that 
time while I was out of a job and doing the sleeping. I had hunted 
up Adam and heard him play the piano. And I had sat across the 
spaghetti and the Dago red and looked at Anne Stanton. And as a 
result of what Anne said to me, I had gone down to the slums and 
seen the old man, the not very tall man who had once been stocky 

114 



but whose face now drooped in puffy gray folds beneath the gray 
hair, with the steel-rimmed spectacles hanging on the end of the 
nose, and whose shoulders, thin now and snowed with dandruff, 
sagged down as with the pull of the apparently disjunctive, careful 
belly which made the vest of his black suit pop up above the belt 
and the slack-hanging pants. And in every case I had found what 
I had known I was going to find, because they had happened and 
nothing was going to change what had happened. I had been sink- 
ing down in the sleep like a drowning man in water, and they had 
flashed across my eyes again the way people say the past flashes 
across the eyes of the drowning man. 

Well, I could go back to sleep now. Till my cash ran out, any- 
way. I could be Rip Van Winkle. Only I thought that the Rip Van 
Winkle story was all wrong. You went to sleep for a long time, and 
when you woke up nothing whatsoever had changed. No matter 
how long you slept, it was the same. 

But I didn’t get to do much sleeping. I got a job. Or rather, the 
job got me. The telephone got me out of bed one morning. It was 
Sadie Burke, who said, *‘Get down here to the Capitol at ten o’clock. 
The Boss wants to see you.” 

”The who?” I said. 

“The Boss,” she said, “Willie Stark, Governor Stark, or don't 
read the papers?” 

“No, but somebody told me in the barbershop.” 

“It’s true,” she said, “and the Boss said for you to get down here 
at ten.” And she hung up the phone. 

Well, I said to myself, maybe things do change while you sleep. 
But I didn’t believe it then, and didn’t really believe it when I 
went into the big room with the black oak paneling and padded 
across the long red carpet under the eyes of all the genuine oil 
paintings of all the bewhiskered old men toward the man who 
wasn’t very old and wasn’t bewhiskered and who sat behind a desk 
in front of the high windows and who got up as I approached. Hell, 
I thought, it's just Willie, 

It was. just Willie, even though he was wearing something dif- 
ferent from the country blue serge he had had on back at Upton. 
But he just had the thing flung on him anyhow, with his tie loose 
and to one side and the collar unbuttoned. And his hair hung down 
over his forehead, the way it used to. I thought for a second that 
maybe the meaty lips were laid together firmer than they used to 
be, but before T could be sure, he was grinning and had come 
around to the front of the desk. So I thought again it was just 
WiUie. 


115 



He put out his hand, and said, “Hello, Jack/' 

“Congratulations,” I said. 

“I hear they fired you.” 

“You heard wrong,” 1 said. “I quit.” 

“You were smart,” he said, “because when I get through with 
that outfit they wouldn’t be able to pay you. They won’t be able to 
pay the nigger washes the spittoons.” 

“That will suit me,” I allowed. 

“Want a job?” he asked. 

“I’d consider a proposition.” 

“Three hundred a month,” he said, “and traveling expenses. 
When you travel.” 

“Who do I work for? The state?” 

“Hell, no. Me.” 

“It looks like you’d be working for me,” I said. “This Governor- 
ship doesn’t pay but five thousand.” 

“All right,” he said, and laughed, “I’ll be working for you then.” 

Then I recollected how he’d done right well in his law practice. 

“I’ll give it a try,” I said. 

“Fine,” he said. Then, “Lucy’s wanting to see you. Come to din- 
ner tomorrow night at the house.” 

“You mean the Mansion?” 

“What the hell you think I mean? A tourist home? A boarding 
house? Sure, the Mansion.” 

Yes, the Mansion. He was going to treat me just like old times 
and take me home to dinner and Introduce me to the pretty little 
woman and the healthy kid. 

“Boy,” he was saying, “we sure do rattle around in that place, 
Lucy and Tom and me.” 

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked him. 

“Eat,” he said. “Come at six-thirty and eat hearty. Call up Lucy 
and tell her what you want to eat.” 

“I mean, what do I do for the job?” 

“Hell, I don’t know,” he said. “Something will turn up.** 

He was right about that. 


116 



Chapter Three 


IT WAS always the same way when I came home and saw my 
mother. I would be surprised that it was the way it was but I knew 
at the same time that I had know it would be this way. I would 
come home with the firm conviction that she didn't really care a 
thing about me, that I was just another man whom she wanted to 
have around because she was the kind of woman who had to have 
men around and had to make them dance to her tune. But as soon 
as I saw her I would forget all that Sometimes I forgot it even be- 
fore I saw her. Anyway, when I forgot it, I would wonder why we 
couldn't get along. I would wonder even though I knew what 
would happen, even though I would always know that the scene 
into which I was about to step and in which I was about to say the 
words I would say, had happened before, or had never stopped 
happening, and that I would always just be entering the wide, 
white, high-ceilinged hall to see across the distance of the floor, 
which gleamed like dark ice, my mother, who stood in a doorway, 
beyond her the flicker of firelight in the shadowy room, and smiled 
at me with a sudden and innocent happiness, like a girl. Then she 
would come toward me, widi a brittle, excited clatter of heels and 
a quick, throaty laugh, and stop before me and seize a little bunch 
of my coat between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, in a 
way that was childlike and both weak and demanding, and lift her 
face up to me, turning it somewhat to one side so that I could put 
the expected kiss upon her cheek. The texture of her cheek would 
be firm and smooth, quite cool, and I would breathe the scent 
which she always used, and as I kissed her I would see the plucked 
accuracy of the eyebrow, the delicate lines at the corner of the eye 
toward me, and note the crinkled, silky, shadowed texture of the 
eyelid, which would flicker sharply over the blue eye. The eye, very 
slightly protruding, would be fixed glitteringly on some point be* 
yond me. 

That was the way it had always been— when I had come home 

117 



from school, when I had come back from camps, when I had come 
back from college, when I had come back from jobs—and that was 
the way it was that late rainy afternoon, on the borderline between 
winter and spring, back in 1953, when I came back home again, 
after not coming home for a long time. It had been six or eight 
months since my last visit. That time we had had a row about 
ray working for Governor Stark, We always sooner or later got into 
a row about something, and in the two and a half years that I had 
been working for Willie it usually in the end came round to Willie. 
And if hi's name wasn't even mentioned, he stood there like a 
shadow behind us. Not that it mattered much what we rowed 
about. There was a shadow taller and darker than the shadow of 
Willie standing behind us. But I always came back, and I had come 
back this time. I would find myself drawn back. It was that way, 
and, as always, it seemed to be a fresh start, a wiping out of all the 
things which I knew could not be wiped out. 

“Leave the bags in your car,” she said, “the boy will get them.'' 
And she drew me toward the open door of the living room, where 
the firelight was, and down the length of the room to the long 
couch. I saw the bowl of ice, the siphon of soda, the Scotch on the 
glass-topped table, all the items sparkling in the firelight. 

“Sit down,” she said, “sit down. Son,” and put the fingers of her 
right hand against my chest to give a little shove. It wasn't much of 
a shove, it didn’t put me off my balance, but I sat down, and sank 
back into the couch. I watched her mix me a drink, and then a 
sort of excuse of a drink for herself, for she never took much. She 
held the glass out to me, and laughed that quick, throaty laugh 
again, “Take it,” she said, and her face seemed to proclaim that 
she was offering me something which was absolutely special, some- 
thing which was so precious that it couldn't be tied on God’s green 
globe. 

There’s a lot of likker in the world, even Scotch, but I took it 
and gave a pull, feeling too that it was something special. 

She sank down on the couch with an easy motion, vaguely sug- 
gestive of a flutter and preening a'S when- a bird touches a bough, 
and took a sip, and lifted her head as if to let the liquor trickle into 
her throat. She had drawn one leg up beneath her and the other 
hung over with the sharp tip of the gray su^de pump stretched for- 
ward to just touch the floor, with the precision of a dancer. She 
turned cleanly from the erect waist to look straight at me, twisting 
the gray cloth of the dress. The firelight defined her small, poised 
features, one side bright, one side in shadow, and emphasized the 
slight, famished, haunting hollow beneath the cheekbones (I always 

118 



figured, after I got old enough to do any kind of figuring, that it 
was that— the hollow beneath the cheekbone— that got them) and 
the careful swooping lift of her piled-up hair. Her hair was yellow- 
ish, like metal, with gray in it now, but the gray was metallic, too, 
like spun metal woven and coiled into the yellow. It looked as 
though that was the way it had been intended from the very first to 
be, and a damned expensive job. Every detail. 

I looked at her and thought: Well, she's pushing fifty-five hut I'll 
hand it to her. And suddenly I felt old, and the thirty-five years I 
had been living suddenly seemed to stretch back forever. But I had 
to hand it to her. 

She kept on looking at me, not saying anything, with that look 
which always said, “You've got something I want, something I need, 
something I’ve got to have,” and said, too, “I’ve got something for 
you, I won’t tell you what, not yet, but I’ve got something for you, 
too.” The hollow in the cheeks: the hungry business. The glittering 
eyes: the promising business. And both at the same time. It was 
quite a trick. 

I took the last of the drink, and held the glass in my hand. She 
reached out and took it, still watching me, and reached out to set 
it on the little table. Then she said, “Oh, Son, you look tired.” 

“I’m not,” I said, and felt the stubbornness in me. 

“You are,” she said, and took me by the sleeve of the forearm 
and drew me toward her. I didn’t come at first. I just let her pull 
the arm. She didn’t pull hard, but she kept on looking straight 
at me. 

I let myself go, and keeled over toward her. I lay on my back, 
with my head on her lap, the way I had known I would do. She let 
her left hand lie on my chest, the thumb and forefinger holding, 
and revolving back and forth, a button on my shirt, and her right 
hand on my forehead. Then she put it over my eyes, and moved it 
slowly upward over my forehead. Her hands were always cool. It 
was one of the first things I remembered ever knowing. 

For a long time she didn’t talk any. She just moved the hand 
over my eyes and forehead. I had known how it would be, and knew 
how it had been before and how it would be after. But she had the 
trick of making a little island right in the middle of time, and of 
your knowing, which is what time does to you. 

Then she said, “You’re tired. Son.” 

Well, I wasn’t tired, but I wasn’t not tired, either, and tiredness 
didn’t have anything to do with the way things were. 

Then, after a while, “Are you working hard. Son?” 

I said, “So-so, I reckon.” 


119 



Then, after another while, ‘That man—that man you work for—" 

“What about it?“ I said. The hand stopped on my forehead, and 
I knew it was my voice that stopped it. 

“Nothing,” she said. “Only you don't have to work for that man. 
Theodore could get you a—” 

“I don’t want any job Theodore would get for me,” I said, and 
tried to heave myself up, but have you ever tried to heave yourself 
up when you’re flat on your back on a deep couch and somebody 
has a hand on your forehead? 

She held her hand firm on my forehead and leaned over and said. 
“Don’t now, don’t. Theodore is my husband, he’s your stepfather, 
don’t talk that way, he’d like to—” 

“Look here,” I said, “I told you I—” 

But she said, “Hush, Son, hush,” and put her hand over my eyes, 
and began to move it again upward over my forehead. 

She didn’t say anything else. But she had already said what she 
had said, and she had to start the island trick all over again. Per- 
haps she had said it just so she could start over again, just to prove 
that she could do it. Anyway, she did it, all over again, and it 
worked. 

Until the front door banged, and there were steps in the hall. 1 
knew that it was Theodore Murrell, and started to heave up again. 
But even now, just for the last instant, she pressed her palm down 
on my forehead, and didn’t let go until the sound of Theodore's 
steps had entered the room. 

I got to my feet, feeling my coat crawling up around my neck and 
my tie under one ear, and looked across at Theodore, who had a 
beautiful blond mustache and apple cheeks and pale hair laid like 
taffy on a round skull and a hint of dignity at the belly (bend over, 
you bastard, bend over one hundred times every morning and touch 
the floor, you bastard, or Mrs. Murrell won’t like you, and then 
where would you be?) and a slightly adenoidal lisp, like too much 
hot porridge, when he opened the aperture under the beautiful 
blond mustache. 

My mother approached him with that bright stride and her 
shoulders well back, and stopped right before the Young Executive. 
The Young Executive put his right arm about her shoulder, and 
kissed her with the aperture under the beautiful blond mustache, 
and she seized him by the sleeve and drew him over toward me, and 
he said, “Well, well, old boy, it’s fine to see you. How’s tricks, how’s 
the old politician?” 

“Fine,” I said, “but I'm not a politician, Fm a hired hand,” 

“Oho/ he said, “don’t try to kid me. They say you and the 

120 



Governor are just like this/' And he held up two not thin, very 
dean, perfectly manicured fingers for me to admire. 

“You don't know the Governor," I replied, “for the only thing 
the Governor is just like this with — " and I held up two not very 
dean and quite imperfectly manicured fingers— “is the Governor, 
and now and then God-Almighty when he needs somebody to hold 
the hog while he cuts its throat." 

“Well, the way he’s going-" Theodore began. 

“Sit down, you all," my mother told us, and we sat down, and 
took the glasses she handed us. She turned on a light. 

I leaned back in my chair, and said “Yes" and said “No," and 
looked down the long room, which I knew better than any room in 
the world and which I always came back to, no matter what I said. 
I noticed that there was a new piece in it. A tall Sheraton break- 
front desk, in the place where the kidney desk had been. Well, the 
kidney desk would be in the attic now, in the second-string 
museum, while we sat in the first-string museum and while Bowman 
and Heatherford, Ltd., London, wrote a large figure in the black 
column of the ledger. There was always a change in the room. 
When I came home I'd always look around and wonder what it 
would be, for there had been a long procession of choice examples 
through that room, spinets, desks, tables, chairs, each more choice 
than die last, each in turn finding its way to the attic to make way 
for a new perfection. Well, the room had come a long way from 
the way I first remembered it, moving toward some ideal perfection 
which was in my mother's head, or in the head of a dealer in New 
Orleans, or New York, or London, and maybe, jus,t before she died, 
the room would achieve its ideal perfection, and she would sit in it, 
a trim old lady, with piled-up white hair, and silky skin sagging 
off a fine jawbone, and blue eyes blinking rapidly, and would take 
a cup of tea to celebrate the ideal. 

The furniture changed, but the people in it changed, too. Way 
back, there had been the thick-set, strong man, not tall, with a 
shock of tangled black hair on his head and steel-rimmed glasses on 
his nose and a habit of buttoning his vest up wrong, and a big gold 
watch-chain, which I liked to pull at. Then he wasn't there, and my 
mother pressed my head against her breast and said, “Your Daddy 
isn't coming back any more. Son." 

“Is he dead?” I asked, “will he have a funeral?" 

“No,” she said, “he isn't dead. He has gone away, but you can 
think of him like he was dead. Son.” 

“Why did he go away?" 

“Because he didn't love Mother. That's why he went away.” 

121 



"I love you, Mother,” I said, *1*11 love you always.** 

“Yes, Son, yes, you love your mother,** she said, and held me tight 
against her breast. 

So the Scholarly Attorney was gone. I was about six years old 
then. 

Then there was the Tycoon, who was gaunt and bald and 
wheezed on the stair. *‘Why does Daddy Ross puff going upstairs?** 
I said. 

‘*Hush,** my mother said, “hush. Son.** 

“Why, Mother?** 

“Because Daddy Ross isn’t well. Son.*' 

Then the Tycoon was dead. He had not lasted long. 

So my mother put me in a school in Connecticut and left me to 
go across the ocean. When she came back there was another man, 
who was tall and slender and wore white suits and smoked long 
thin cigars, and had a thin black mustache. He was the Count, and 
my mother was a Countess. The Count sat in the room with people 
and smiled a great deal and didn’t say much. People looked side- 
ways at him, but he looked straight at them and smiled to show the 
whitest teeth in the world under the thin, accurate black mustache. 
When nobody was there he played the piano all day, and then went 
out wearing black boots and tight white trousers and rode a horse 
and made it jump over gates and gallop along the beach till its 
sides were flecked with lather and were pumping fit to die. Then 
the Count came into the house and drank wis-kee and held a Per- 
sian cat on his knee and stroked it with a hand which was not big 
but which was so strong that he could make men frown when he 
shook hands with them. And once I saw four blue-black parallel 
marks on my mother’s upper right arm. ‘‘Mother,” I said, “look! 
What happened?” 

“Nothing,” she said, “I just hurt myself.” And she pulled the 
scarf down over her arm. 

The Count’s name was Covelli. People said, “That Count fellow 
is a son-of-a-bitch, but he can evermore ride a horse.* 

Then he was gone. I was sorry, for I had liked the Count. I had 
liked to watch him ride a horse. 

Then there was quite a while when there was nobody. 

Then there was the Young Executive, who had been a Young 
Executive from the day his mother gave the last push and would be 
a Young Executive until the day they drained out the blood and 
pumped in the embalming fluid. But that would be a long time off, 
because he was just forty-four, and sitting at the desk at the oil 

122 



company -where he earned the pin money to supplement his allow- 
ance wasn't breaking him down fast 

Well, I’d sat in that room with all of them, the Scholarly Attor- 
ney and the Tycoon and the Count and the Young Executive, and 
had watched the furniture change. So now I sat and looked at 
Theodore and at the new Sheraton break-front desk, and wondered 
how permanent they were. 

I had come home. I was the thing that always came back. 

It kept on raining that night. I lay in a big fine old family bed, 
which had come from somebody else’s family (a long time ago there 
had been a white iron bed in my rpom standing on the floor mat- 
ting, and the big fine old mahogany Burden family bed, which 
hadn’t been fine enough and which was now in the attic, had been 
in my mother’s room) and listened to the rain hiss on the live-oak 
and magnolia leaves. In the morning it had stopped raining, and 
there was sun. I went out and saw the thin pools of water standing 
on the black ground, like sheets of isinglass. Around the japonicas, 
the white and red and coral petals, which had been shattered from 
the blossoms, floated on the blackly gleaming pools. Some of them 
floated with the curled edges upward, like boats, and around them 
other petals floated upside down or had shipped water, making a 
gay carnage as though a battleship had fired a couple of salvos into 
a fleet of carnival barges and gondolas in some giddy, happy, far-off 
land. 

There was a massive japonica tree by the steps. I leaned over to 
scoop up some petals in my hand. The water was very cold. I held 
the petals in my hand, and walked do-wn the curving drive to the 
gate. I stood there, pressing the petals in the palm and looking out 
at the bay, which was very bright beyond the strip of whitish sand 
streaked with drift. 

But before noon it began to rain again, a long drizzle and drip 
from the spongy sky that lasted two days. That afternoon, and the 
next morning, and the next afternoon, I put on a raincoat belong- 
ing to the Young Executive and walked in the drizzle. Not that I 
was a walker who just has to have his lungs flushed out with ozone. 
But walking seemed the thing to do. The first afternoon I walked 
down the beach, past the Stanton place, which was cold and hollow- 
looking beyond the dripping leaves, and on out to the Irwin place, 
where Judge Irwin put me in a chair with my heels to the fire and 
opened a bottle of his choice old Maryland rye to give me a drink, 
and invited me to dinner the next night. But I took one drink and 
left, and walked on where there weren’t any more houses, just brush 

123 



and oak tangles with here and there a pine rising, and occasionally 
an open patch of ground with a gray shack. 

And the next day I walked up the bay, through the streets of the 
town, and on beyond till I came to the little half-moon-shaped cove 
off the bay, where the pine grove came down close to the v/hite sand. 
I walked just under the shelter of the pines, my heels deep in the 
needles, then I came out on the sand. There was a place where a 
half-charred log lay, very black with the wetness and around it the 
sodden ashes and black butts of driftwood, blacker for the white 
sand. People still came here for picnics. Well, I had come here for 
picnics, too. I knew what picnics were like. 

I knew what a picnic was like, all right. 

Anne and Adam and I had come here years before when we were 
kids, but it was not raining that day. Not till the end. It was very 
hot and very still. You could look down the bay, beyond the cove, 
toward the Gulf, and see the water lifting up into the light as 
though the horizon had ceased to exist. We swam, and ate our lunch, 
lying on the sand, then fished some more. But we didn't have any 
luck. By that time clouds had begun to pile, working in’ over the 
whole sky, except toward the west, beyond the pines, where the 
light struck through the break. The water was very still, and sud- 
denly dark with the darkness of the sky, and away across the bay 
the line of woods looked black now, not green, above the whiteness 
of the line which was the beach way over there. A boat, a catboat, 
was becalmed over in that direction, nearly a mile away, and under 
the sky and over the dark water and against the black line of the 
woods, you never saw anything so heartbreakingly white as the 
sharp sail. 

“He better get in,” Adam said. “It's going to blow.** 

“Not quick," Anne said, “let's swim again." 

“Better not." Adam hesitated and looked off at the sky. 

“Let's," she insisted, and pulled at his arm. He didn’t respond, 
still scanning the sky. All at once she dropped his arm and laughed 
and began to run toward the water. She didn’t run directly to the 
water, but up the beach, toward a little spit, with her bobbed hair 
back loose on the air. I watched her run. She ran with her arms not 
quite outspread, crooked at the elbows, and with a motion of her 
legs which was graceful and free, and somehow awkward at the 
same time, as though she hadn't quite forgotten one kind of run- 
ning, the child’s running, and hadn't quite learned another kind 
of running, the woman's running. The legs seemed to be hung too 
loose, somewhat uncertainly, from the litde hips, which weren’t 

124 



<juite rounded yet. I watched her and noticed that her legs were 
long. Which I had never noticed before. 

It wasn t a noise, but, instead, a stillness that made me turn sud- 
denly to Adam. He was staring at me. When I met his eyes, his face 
flushed, and he jerked his eyes off me, as though eyabarrassed. Then 
he said, ‘1*11 race you,’* huskily, and ran after her. I ran too, and 
his feet threw the sand back at me. 

Anne was out in the water swimming now. Adam plunged in 
after her and swam hard and straight, outdistancing me. He passed 
right by Anne, and kept on swimming. He was a wonderful swim- 
mer. He hadn’t wanted to swim but now he would swim straight 
out, hard and fast. 

I came up to Anne, and slowed down, and said, “Hello.” She 
lifted her head high for an instant, with the gracile motion a seal 
has, and smiled, then curled over forward in a clean surface dive. 
Her sharp small heels, side by side, flickered for a second above the 
water, then drew under. I caught up with her, and she did it again. 
Every time I caught up with her she would lift her head, and smile, 
and dive again. The fifth time I caught up, she didn’t dive. She 
rolled over with a light, lounging twist of her body, and floated on 
her back, looking up at the sky, her arms spread wide. So I turned 
over, too, and floated, about five or six feet from her, and looked 
up at the sky. 

The sky was darker now, with a purplish, greenish cast. The 
color of a turning grape. But it still looked high, with worlds of air 
under it. A gull crossed, very high, directly above me. Against the 
sky it was whiter even than the sail had been. It passed clear across 
all the sky I could see. I wondered if Anne had seen the gull. When 
I looked at her, her eyes were closed. Her arms were still spread out 
wide, and her hair wavered out free on the water from around her 
head. Her head was far back, her chin lifted. Her face looked very 
smooth, as though she were asleep. As I lay in the water, I could see 
her profile sharp against the far-off black trees. 

All at once, she turned, in the direction away from me, as though 
I hadn’t been there, and began to swim in. She swam with a slow 
stroke now that seemed retarded and yet effortless. Her thin arms 
rose and sank with a languid and bemused and fastidious punctu- 
ality, like your own effortless motion in a dream. 

Before we got to the beach, the rain had begun, big, spaced, 
heavy, independent drops that prickled the yet glossy surface of the 
water. Then it was a driving gust of rain, and the surface of the 
water was gone. 

We rose out of the water and stood on the sand, with the rain 

125 



whipping our skin, and looked out at Adam, who was coming in. 
He still had a long way to come. Down the bay beyond him, to the 
south, the lightning kept forking out of the dark sky, wdth steady 
thunder. Now and then Adam seemed, for a moment, to be lost in 
a driving sheet of rain which would rake over the water. Watching 
him, Anne stood there with her head bowed forward a little, almost 
pensively, and her shoulders hunched and her arms crossed over 
her insignificant breasts, hugging herself as though she were just 
about to shiver, and her knees tight together and slightly bent. 

Adam came in, we gathered up our stuff, put on our sopping 
sandals, and passed through the pine grove, where the black masses 
heaved above us and the boughs made a stridor which you caught 
now and then coming out of the roar. We reached our car and went 
home. That summer I was seventeen, Adam was about my age, and 
Anne was four years younger, or about that. That was back before 
the World War, or rather, before we got into it. 

That was a picnic I never forgot. 

I suppose that that day 1 first saw Anne and Adam as separate, 
individual people, whose ways of acting were special, mysterious, 
and important. And perhaps, too, that day I first saw myself as a 
person. But that is not what I am talking about. What happened 
was this: I got an image in my head that never got out. We see a 
great many things and can remember a great many things, but that 
is different. We get very few of the true images in our heads of the 
kind I am talking about, the kind which become more and more 
vivid for us as if the passage of the years did not obscure their 
reality but, year by year, drew off another veil to expose a meaning 
which we had only dimly surmised at first. Very probably the last 
veil will not be removed, for there are not enough years, but the 
brightness of the image increases and our conviction increases that 
the brightness is meaning, or the legend of meaning, and without 
the image our lives would be nothing except an old piece of film 
rolled on a spool and thrown into a desk drawer among the un« 
answered letters. 

The image I got in my head that day was the image of her face 
lying in the water, very smooth, with the eyes closed, under the 
dark greenish-purple sky, with the white gull passing over. 

This is not to say that I fell in love with Anne tliat day. She was 
a kid then. That came later. But the image would have been there 
if I had never fallen in love with her, or had never seen her again, 
or had grov/n to detest her. There were times afterwards when I was 
not in love with Anne. Anne told me she wouldn’t marry me, and 
after a while I married Lois who was a better-looking girl than 

126 



Anne, Ae kind they turn around on the street to see, and I was in 
love with Lois. But the image was there all the time, growing 
brighter as the veils were withdrawn and making the promise of a 
greater brightness. 

So when I stepped out of the pine grove, that drizzly early-spring 
afternoon a long time afterward, and saw the charred lo^ on the 
white sand where a picnic had been, I remembered the picnic back 
in the summer of 1915, the last picnic we had before I left home to 
go to college. 

I wasn’t going such a hell of a long way to college. Just up to the 
State University. 

Oh, Son, my mother said, “why don’t you be sensible and go to 
Harvard or Princeton.” For a woman out of the scrub country of 
Arkansas, my mother had certainly learned a lot by that time about 
our better educational institutions. “Or even Williams,” she said. 
•‘They say it’s a nice refined place.” 

“I went to school where you wanted,” I said, “and it was sure 
refined.” 

“Or even Virginia,” she went on, looking brightly at my face and 
not hearing a word I said. “Your father went to the University of 
Virginia.” 

* That shouldn’t be such a big recommendation to you,” I said, 
and thought how smart I was to get that one oiff. I had got in the 
habit in arguments with her of making some reference to his leav- 
ing. 

But she didn’t hear that, either. She just went on, “If you were 
East, then it would be easier for you to come over for the summer 
and see me.” 

“They’re fighting a war over there now,” I said. 

“They’ll stop before long,” she said, “then it will be easier.” 

“Yeah, and it would be easier for you to tell somebody I was in 
Harvard than m a place they never heard of like State. They 
wouldn’t even have heard of the name of the state it was in.” 

•‘It’s just I want you to go to a nice place. Son, where you’ll make 
nice friends. And like I said, it would be easier for you to come 
over to see me in the summer.” 

(She was talking about going to Europe again, and was very an- 
noyed at the war. The Count had been gone quite a spell, since 
just before the war, and she was going back across. She did go back 
across, after the war, but she didn't get any more counts. Maybe she 
figured it was too expensive to marry them. She didn’t marry again 
until the Young Executive.) 

Well, I told her I didn't want to go to a nice place and didn’t 

127 



want any nice friends and wasn't going to Europe and wasn't going 
to take any money from her. That last part about the money just 
slipped out in the heat of the moment, it seemed a big manly thing 
to say, but the effect was so much superior to anything I had ex- 
pected that I couldn't renege and spoil the drama. It knocked her 
breath out. It almost floored her. I suppose that she wasn't accus- 
tomed to hear anything in pants talk like that. Not that she didn't 
try to persuade me, but I got on my high horse and was stubborn. 
A thousand times in the next four years I thought what a damned 
fool I was. I would be hashing or typing or even, in the last year, 
doing part-time newspaper work, and would think how I had 
thrown away about five thousand dollars, just because I had read 
something in a book about its being manly to work your way 
through college. Not that my mother didn't send me money. On 
Christmas and birthdays. And I took that and had me a blowout, 
a real one with trimmings for days, and then went back to hashing 
or whatever it was. They didn't take me in the Army. Bad feet. 

When he got back from the war, he was full of beans about it. He 
had been a colonel of artillery and had had himself a wonderful 
time. Ho had got there early enough to fire off a lot of iron at the 
Germans and to dodge a lot of their stuff in reply. In the Spanish- 
American War he hadn't got farther than a case of flux in Florida. 
But now his happiness was complete. He felt that all the years he 
had been making maps of Caesar's campaigns and making working 
models of catapults and ballistas and scorpions and wdld asses and 
battering rams along ancient and medieval lines hadn’t been wasted. 
Well, they hadn't been wasted as far as I was concerned, for I used 
to help him make them when I was a kid, and the tricks were v/on- 
derful little gadgets. For a kid, anyway. And the war hadn't been 
wasted, either,, for he had made a visit to Alise-Ste-Reine, which was 
where Caesar beat Vercingetorix, and toward the end of the sum- 
mer after he got back he had Foch and Caesar ^d Pershing and 
Haig and Vercingetorix and Critognatus and VeJ’cassivellaunus and 
Ludendorff and Edith Cavell pretty well mixed up in his mind. 
And he got out all the catapults and scorpions we had made and 
dusted them off. But he had been a good officer, they said, and a 
brave man. He had a medal to prove it. 

I suppose that for a long time I took a snotty tone about the 
Judge as hero because it was a fashion for a while to take such 
a tone about heroes and I grew up in that fashion. Or perhaps 
it was because I had bad feet and never got into the Army, or 
even the S.A.T.C. when I was in college, and therefore had the 
case of sour grapes that the wallflower always has. Perhaps if I had 

m 



been in the Army everything 'would have been different. But the 
Judge was a brave man, even if he did have a medal to prove it. 
He had proved it before he ever got the medal. And he was to 
prove it again. There was, for instance, the time a fellow he had 
sent up to the pen stopped him in the street down at the Land- 
ing and told him he was going to kill him. The Judge just laughed 
and turned his back and walked away. The fellow took out a pistol 
then and called to the Judge, two or three times. Finally the Judge 
looked around. When he saw the man had a pistol and had it 
pointing at him, the Judge turned right there and walked straight 
at the man, not saying a word. He got right up to the man and took 
the pistol away from him. What he did in the war, I never knew. 

The night my mother and the Young Executive and I went to 
dinner at his place, nearly fifteen years later, he dug up some of 
the junk again. There were the Pattons, a couple who lived down 
the Row, and a girl named Dumonde, whose presence I took to be 
tribute to me, and Judge Irwin, and us. Digging up the ballista was, 
I suppose, a tribute to me, too, though he always had shown a 
tendency to instruct his guests in the art of war of the pregunpow- 
der epochs. All during the meal it had been old times, which was 
another tribute to me, for you come back to the place you have 
been and they always start chewing over that bone: old times. Old 
times, just before dessert, worked around to how I used to make 
models with him. So he got up and went into the library and came 
back with a ballista, about twenty inches long, and shoved his des- 
sert to one side and set it up there on the table. Then he cocked it, 
using the little crank* on the draw drum to wind back the carriage, 
just as though he hadn’t been strong enough to do it with a finger 
or two all at once. Then he didn’t have anything to shoot. So he 
rang for the black boy and got a roll. He broke open the roll and 
removed a little hunk of the soft bread and tried to make a pellet 
of it. It didn’t make a very good pellet, so he dipped it in water to 
make it stick. He put it in the carriage, ‘‘Now/’ he said, '‘it works 
like this,” and tipped the trigger. 

It worked. The pellet was heavy with a good soaking and the zip 
hadn’t gone out of the ballista with the passage of the years, for the 
next thing I knew there was an explosion in the chandelier and 
Mrs. Patton screamed and spewed mint ice over her black velvet 
and bits of glass showered down over the tablecloth and the big 
bowl of japonicas. The Judge had made it dead center on an elec- 
tric-light bulb. He had also fetched down one of the crystal bangles 
of the chandelier. 

The Judge said he was very sorry about Mrs. Patton. He said that 

129 



he was a very stupid old man in his second childhood to be playing 
with toys, and then sat up very straight in his chair to show what a 
chest and pair of shoulders he still had. Mrs. Patton ate the rest of 
the mint ice, punctuating her activity with distrustful glances at 
the disgraced bailista. Then we all went back into the Judge's li- 
brary to wait for the coffee and the brandy bottle. 

But I loitered behind in the dining room for a moment. I have 
said that the zip hadn’t gone out of the bailista with the passage of 
the years. But that was a misstatement of fact. It hadn’t had a 
chance to. I went over to examine the thing, with a motive more 
sentimental than scientific. But then I noticed the twists, which 
gave it its zip. There are two twists of fiber on all those things, bal- 
listas, some types of catapults, scorpions, and wild asses, through 
each of which the butt of a propelling arm is adjusted to make, as 
it were, half of the bow of a kind of supercrossbow. We used to 
cheat by mixing in catgut and fine steel wire with the string of the 
twists on our models to give more force. Now, as I looked at the 
thing, I realized that the twists weren’t the old twists which I had 
put in back in tlie dear dead days. Not by a damned sight. They 
were practically new. 

And all at once I had the sight of Judge Irwin sitting up nights, 
back in the library, with catgut and steel wire and string and pliers 
and scissors on the desk beside him, and with his high old red- 
thatched head bent over, the yellow eyes gimleted upon the task. 
And seeing that picture in my head, I felt sad and embarrassed. I 
had never felt anything, one way or the other, about the Judge's 
making those things in the first place, years back. When I was a Kid 
it seemed natural that anybody in his right mind would want to 
make them, and read books about them, and make maps and 
models. And it had kept on seeming all right that the Judge had 
made them. But the picture I now had in my head was different. I 
felt sad and embarrassed and, somehow, defrauded. 

So I joined the guests in the library and left a piece of Jack Bur- 
den in the dining room, with the bailista, for good and all. 

They were having coffee. All except the Judge, who was opening 
up a bottle of brandy. He looked up as I came in, and said, ‘‘Been 
looking at our old peashooter, huh?" He put the slightest emphasis 
upon our. 

“Yes," I said. 

The yellow eyes bored right into me for a second, and I knew he 
knew what I'd found out. “I fixed it up," he said, and laughed the 
most candid and disaiming laugh in the world. “The other day. 
You know, an old fellow with nothing to do and nobody to talk ta 

130 



You can't read law and history and Dickens all the time. Or fish/" 

I grinned a grin which I somehow felt I had to grin as a tribute 
to something, not specified in my mind. But I knew that the grin 
was about as convincing as cold chicken broth in a boarding house. 

Then I went over and sat beside the Dumonde girl, who had 
been provided for my delight. She was a prettyish, dark girl, well 
got-up but lacking something, too brittle and vivacious, with a trick 
of lassoing you with her anxious brown eyes and fluttering the eye* 
lids as she cinched the rope and then saying what her mother had 
told her ten years before to say. *‘Oh, Mr. Burden, they say you're 
in politics, oh, it must be just fascinating!" No doubt, her mother 
had taught her that. Well, she was pushing thirty and it hadn't 
worked yet. But the eyelids were still busy. 

"No, I’m not in politics,” I said. "I've just got a job." 

"Tell me about your job, Mr. Burden.'^ 

"I'm an office boy,” I said. 

"Oh, they say you're very important, Mr. Burden. They say 
you're very influential. Oh, it must be fascinating. To be influen- 
tial, Mr. Burden!" 

"It’s news to me," I said, and discovered that they were all look- 
ing at me as though it had just dawned on them that I was sitting 
there buck-naked on the couch beside Miss Dumonde, with a demi- 
tasse on my knee. It’s the human fate. Every time some dame like 
Miss Dumonde snags you and you have to start talking the way you 
have to talk to dames like Miss Dumonde, the whole world starts 
listening in. I saw the Judge smiling with what I took to be a venge- 
ful relish. 

Then he said, "Don't let him kid you. Miss Dumonde. Jack ii 
very influential." 

"I knew it,” Miss Dumonde said. "It must be fascinating." 

"All right," I said, "I’m influential. You got any pals in the pen 
you want me to get a pardon for?" Then I thought: Wonderful 
manners you got. Jack. You might at least smile if you've got to say 
that. So I smiled. 

"Well, there's going to be somebody in the pen," old Mr. Patton 
said, "before it's over. What's going on up there in the city. All 
these—” 

"George,” his wife breathed at him, but it didn't do any good, 
for Mr. Patton was the bluff, burly type, with lots of money and a 
manly candor. He kept right on: "—yes, sir, all these wild goings-on. 
Why, that fellow is giving this state away. Free this and free that 
and free other. Every wool-hat jackass thinking the world is free* 

131 



Who's going to pay? That's what I want to know? What does he say 
to that, Jack?" 

*'I never asked him," I said. 

"Weil, you ask him,” Mr. Patton said. "And ask him, too, how 
much grabbing there is. All that money Sowing, pd don't tell me 
there's not a grab. And ask him what he’s going to do when they 
impeach him? Tell him there's a constitution in this state, or was 
before he blew it to hell. Tell him that.” 

"I’ll tell him,” I said, and laughed, and then kughed again when 
I thou^it how Willie would look if I did tell him. 

"George,” the Judge said, "you're an old fogy. Government is 
committed these days to give services we never heard of when we 
were growing up. The world's changing.” 

"It's changed so much a fellow can step in and grab the whole 
state. Give him another few years and nothing can blast him out 
He'll have half the state on a pay roll and the other half will be 
afraid to vote. Strong-arm, blackmail, God knows what.” 

"He's a hard man,” the Judge said. "He's played it hard and 
close. But there’s one principle he's grasped: you don’t make 
omelettes without breaking eggs. And precedents. He's broken 
plenty of eggs and he may make his omelettes. And remember, the 
Supreme Court has backed him up on every issue raised to date.” 

"Yeah, and it's his court. Since he got Aimstrong on, and Tal- 
bott. And the issues raised. But what about the issues that haven't 
been raised? That people have been afraid to raise?” 

"There's a great deal of talk,” the Judge said calmly, "but we 
don't really know much.” 

"I know he’s going to tax this state to death,” Mr. Patton said, 
and shifted his big hams, and glared. 'And drive business out of 
this state. Raising royalty on the state coal land. On the oil land. 
On—” 

"Yes, George,” the Judge laughed, "and he slammed an income 
tax on you and me, too.” 

"On the oil situation, now,” the Young Executive began, for the 
sacred name of oil had been mentioned, "as I see it, the situation—” 

Well, Miss Dumonde had certainly opened the corral gate when 
she mentioned politics, and it was thunder of hoofs and swirl of 
dust from then on, and I was sitting on the bare ground in the 
middle of it. For a while it didn't occur to me that there was any- 
thing peculiar about the scene. Then it did occur to me. After all, I 
did work for the fellow who had the tail and the cloven hoof and 
this was, or bad started out to be, a social occasion. I suddenly 
remembered that fact and decided that the developments were 

152 



peculiar. Then I realized that they weren’t so peculiar, after all 
Mr. Patton, and the Young Executive, and Mrs. Patton, for she had 
begun putting her oar in, and even the Judge, they all assumed that 
even though I did work for Willie my heart was with them. I was 
just picking up a little, or maybe a lot, of change with Willie, but 
my heart was in Burden’s Landing and they had no secrets from 
me and they knew they couldn’t hurt my feelings. Maybe they were 
right. Maybe my heart was in Burden’s Landing. Maybe they 
couldn’t hurt my feelings. But I just broke in, after an hour of sit- 
ting quiet and drinking in Miss Dumonde’s subtle scent, and said 
something. I don’t recall what I interrupted, but it all amounted to 
the same thing anyway. I said, “Doesn’t it all boil down to this? If 
the government of this state for quite a long time back had been 
doing anything for the folks in it, would Stark have been able to 
get out there with his bare hands and bust the boys? And would he 
be having to make so many short cuts to get something done to 
make up for the time lost all these years in not getting something 
done? I’d just like to submit that question for the sake of argu- 
ment.” 

There wasn’t a sound for half a minute. Mr. Patton’s granite 
visage seemed to lean toward me like a monument about to fall, 
and the satchel under Mrs. Patton’s chin quivered like a tow sack 
full of kittens, and the sound of the Young Executive’s adenoids 
was plainly audible, and the Judge just sat, with his yellow eyes 
working over the crowd, and my mother’s hands turned in her lap. 
Then she said, “Why, Son, I didn’t know you— you felt that— that 
wayl’* 

“Why— er— no,” Mr. Patton said, “I didn’t realize you— er— ” 

“I didn’t say I felt any way,” I said. “I just offered a proposition 
for the sake of argument.” 

“ArgumentI Argument!” burst out Mr. Patton, himself again. “It 
doesn’t matter what kind of , government this state’s had in the past. 
They never had this kind. Nobody ever tried to grab the whole 
damned state. Nobody ever-” 

“It’s a very interesting proposition,” the Judge said, and sipped 
his brandy. 

And they were at it again, all except my mother, whose hands 
kept turning slow in her lap, with the firelight exploding in the big 
diamond which never came from the Scholarly Attorney, They kept 
at it steady until it was time to go. 

“Who is that Miss Dumonde?” I asked my mother late the next 
afternoon, sitting in front of the fire. 

m 



“Mr, Orton's sister's child," she said, “and she'll inherit his 
money." 

"Well," I said, "somebody ought to wait till she pts the dough 
and then marry her and drown her in the bathtub." 

"Don’t talk that way," my mother was saying. 

"Don't worry," I said. "I’d like to drown her but I don't want 
her money. I’m not interested in ‘money. If I wanted to I could 
reach out any day and knock off ten thousand. Twenty thou- 
sand. I—” 

"Oh, Son-what Mr. Patton said-those people you’re with-Son, 
now don’t get mixed up in any graft, now—” 

"Graft is what he calls it when the fellows do it who don’t know 
which fork to use.” 

"It's the same thing. Son— those people—" 

"I don’t know what those people, as you call them, do. I'm very 
ireful not to ever know what anybody anywhere does any time." 

"Now, Son, don’t you, please don't—" 

"Don't what?" 

"Don't get mixed up in— in anything." 

"All I said was I could reach out and knock off ten thousand. 
And not graft Information. Information is money. But I told you 
I'm not interested in money. Not the slightest Willie isn't either." 

"Willie?" she asked. 

"The Boss. The Boss isn't interested in money." 

"What’s he interested in, then?" 

"He's interested in Willie. Quite simply and directly. And when 
anybody is interested in himself quite simply and directly the way 
Willie is interested in Willie you call it genius. It’s only the half- 
baked people like Mr. Patton who are interested in money Even 
the big boys who make a real lot of money aren’t interested in 
money. Henry Ford isn't interested in money. He's interested in 
Henry Ford and therefore he is a genius." 

She reached over and took my hand, and spoke earnestly ‘to me. 
"Don't, Son, don’t talk that way," she said. 

"What way?" 

"When you talk tliat way I don’t know what to think. I just don't 
know." And she looked imploringly at me, with the firelight strik- 
ing across her cheek to make the hollow there hollower and hun- 
grier. She laid her free hand on the hand of mine she held, and 
when a woman makes that kind of a sandwich out of one of your 
hands it is always a prelude to something. Which, in this case, 
was: "Why don't you. Son— why don't you— settle down— why don't 
you marry some nice girl and—” 


154 



"I tried that/* I offered. “And if you tried to rig anything for me 
with that Dumonde you sure rang the lemons,’* 

She was looking at me with a growing, searching, discovering look 
from her too bright eyes, like somebody puzzling something out o£ 
distance. Then she said, “Son-Son, you were sort of funny last 
night— you didn’t enter into things— then the tone you took—*’ 

“All right/’ I said. 

“You weren’t like yourself, like you used to be, you—’’ 

“If I’m ever like I used to be I’ll shoot myself,” I said, “and if I 
embarrassed you before those half-wit Pattons and that half-wit 
Dumonde, I’m sorry.” 

“Judge Irwin—” she began. 

“Leave him out of it,” I said. “He’s different.” 

“Oh, Son,” she exclaimed, “what makes you be that way? You 
didn’t embarrass me, but what makes you that way? It’s those peo- 
ple— what you do— why don’t you settle down— get a decent job- 
judge Irwin, Theodore, they could get you a—” 

I snatched my hand out of the sandwich she had made, and said, 
“I don’t want anything in God’s world out of them. Or anybody. 
And I don’t want to settle down, and I don’t want to get married 
and I don’t want any other job, and as for money—” 

“Son— Son— ” she said, and turned her hands together on her lap. 

“And as for money, I don’t want any more than I’ve got. And 
besides I don’t have to worry about that. You’ve got enough—” I 
got up from the couch and lighted a cigarette and flung the match 
stub into the fire— “enough to leave both Theodore and me pretty 
well fix^d.” 

She didn’t move or say anything. She just looked up at me, and 
I saw that her eyes had tears coming into them, and that she loved 
me, for I was her son. And that Time didn’t mean anything, but 
that the lifted face with the bright, too large eyes was an old face. 
The skin lanked down from the cheek hollows under the bright 
eyes. 

“Not that I want your money,” I said. 

She reached out with one hand, in a tentative, humble way, and 
took my right hand, not by my hand itself but just by the fingers, 
crumpling them together. 

“Son,” she said, “you know whatever I’ve got is yours. Don’t you 
know that?” 

I didn’t say anything. 

“Don’t you know that?” she said, and swung on to my fingers as 
though they were the end of a rope somebody had tossed in the 
water to her. 


1S5 



“All right,*' I heard my voice say, ana telt my fingers twitching 
to get away, but at the same time I felt my heart suddenly go soft 
and fluid in my chest like a melting snowball you squash in your 
hand. “I'm sorry I talked that way," I said, “but, damn it, why can't 
we just stop talking? Why can't I just come home for a day or two 
and us not talk, not open our mouths?" 

She didn't answer, but kept on holding my fingers. So I released 
my fingers, and said, “I'm going up and take a bath before dinner,” 
and started toward the door. I knew that she didn’t turn her head 
to watch me go out of the room, but as I crossed the room I felt as 
though they had forgotten to ring down the curtain at the end of 
something and a thousand eyes were on my back and the clapping 
hadn't started. Maybe the bastards didn't know it was over. Maybe 
they didn't know it was time to clap. 

I went upstairs and lay in the bathtub with the hot water up to 
my ears and knew that it was over. It was over again. I would get 
in my car, right after dinner, and drive like hell toward town over 
the new concrete slab between the black, mist-streaked fields, and 
get to town about midnight and go up to my hotel room where 
nothing was mine and nothing knew my name and nothing had a 
thing to say to me about anything that had ever happened. 

I lay in the tub and heard a car drive up and knew that it was 
the Young Executive and knew that he would come in the front 
door and that the woman on the couch would get up and with a 
quick step and small, squared, gallant shoulders carry the old face 
to him like a present. 

And, by God, he'd better look grateful. 

Two hours later I was in my car and Burden’s Landing was be- 
hind me, and the bay, and the windshield wipers were making their 
busy little gasp and click like something inside you which had bet- 
ter not stop. For it was raining again. The drops swung and swayed 
down out of the dark into my headlights like a bead portiere of 
bright metal beads which the car kept shouldering through. 

There is nothing more alone than being in a car at night in the 
rain. I was in the car. And I was glad of it. Between one point on 
the map and another point on the map, there was the being alone 
in the car in the rain. They say you are not you except in terms of 
relation to other people. If there weren't any other people there 
wouldn't be any you because what you do, which is what you are, 
only has meaning in relation to other people. That is a very com- 
forting thought when you are in the car in the rain at night alone, 
fca: then you aren't you, and not being you or anything, you can 

136 



really lie back and get some rest. It is a vacation from being you 
There is only the flow of the motor under your foot spinning tliat 
frail thread of sound out of its metal gut like a spider, that fila- 
ment, that nexus, which isn't really there, between the you which 
you have just left in one place and the you which you will be when 
you get to the other place. 

You ought to invite those two you's to the same party, some time. 
Or you might have a family reunion for all the you's with barbecue 
under the trees. It would be amusing to know what they would 
say to each other. 

But meanwhile, there isn’t either one of them, and I am in th<f 
car in the rain at night. 

This is why I am in the car: Thirty-seven years before, about 
1896, the stocky, sober, fortyish man, with the steel-rimmed spec- 
tacles and the dark suit, who was the Scholarly Attorney, had gone 
up to a lumber town in south Arkansas to interview witnesses and 
conduct an investigation for a big timber land litigation. It was not 
much of a town, I guess. Shacks, a boarding house for the bosses 
and engineers, a post office, a company commissary— all rising out 
of the red mud— and around them the stumps stretching off, and off 
yonder a cow standing among the stumps, and the scream of saws 
like a violated nerve in tlie center of your head, and in the air and 
in your nostrils the damp, sweet-sick smell of sawn timber. 

I have not seen the town. I have never even set foot inside the 
State of Arkansas. But I have seen the town in my head. And stand- 
ing on the steps of the commissary is a girl with yellow hair hang- 
ing in two heavy braids and with large blue eyes and with the hint 
of a delicate, famished hollow in each cheek. Let us say that she 
is wearing a lettuce-green gingham dress, for lettuce-green is a nice, 
fresh color for a blond girl to be wearing as she stands in the morn- 
ing sunlight on the commissary steps and listens to the saws scream 
and watches a stocky man in a dark suit come picking his way 
soberly through the red mud left by l;he last big spring rain. 

The girl is standing on the commissary steps because her father 
clerks in the commissary for the company. That is what I know 
about her father. 

The man in the dark suit stays in the town for two months tran'"' 
acting his legal business. In the evening, toward sunset, he and the 
giri walk down the street of the town, now dusty, and move out 
beyond the houses, where the stumps are. I can see them standing 
in the middle of the ruined land, against the background of the 
brass-and-blood-colored summer sunset of Arkansas. I cannot make 
out what they say to each other. 

137 



When me man has finished his business and leaves the town, he 
takes the girl with him. He is a kind, innocent, shy man, and as he 
sits beside the girl on the red plush of the train seat, he holds her 
hand in his, stiffly and carefully as though he might drop and break 
something valuable. 

He puts her in a big white house, which his grandfather had 
built. In front of it is the sea. That is new to her. Every day she 
spends a great deal of time looking at it. Sometimes she goes down 
to the beach and stands there, alone, looking out at the lift of the 
horizon. 

I know that that .is true, the business of looking at the sea, for my 
mother once, years later when I was a big boy, said to me, “When 
I first came here I used to stand down at the gate and just look out 
over the water. I spent hours doing it, and didn’t know why. But 
it wore off. It wore off a long time before you were born, Son.” 

The Scholarly Attorney went to Arkansas and the girl was on the 
steps of the commissary, and that is why I was in the car, in the 
rain, at night. 

I entered the lobby of my hotel just about midnight. The clerk 
saw me enter, beckoned to me, and gave me a number to call. 
*'They been giving the operator prostration,” he said. I didn’t 
recognize the number. “Said ask for a party named Miss Burke,” 
the clerk added. 

So I didn’t bother to go upstairs before calling, but stepped into 
one of the lobby booths. “Markheim Hotel,” the crisp voice 
answered, and I asked for Miss Burke, and there was Sadie’s voice 
saying, “Well, by God, it’s time you got here. I called Burden’s 
Landing God knows when and they said you’d left. What did you 
do, walk?” 

“I’m not Sugar-Boy,” I said. 

“Well, get on over here. Suite 905. Hell has popped.” 

I hung the receiver up very deliberately, walked over to the desk 
and asked the clerk to give my bag to a bellhop, got a drink out of 
the lobby cooler, bought a couple of packs of cigarettes from the 
sleepy sister at the lobby stand, opened a package and lighted my- 
self one, and stood there to take a long drag and look at the blank 
lobby, as though there weren’t any place in the world where I had 
to go. 

But there was such a place. And I went there. Quick, once I 
started. 

Sadie was sitting in the outside room of Suite 905, over by the 
telephone stand, with a tray full of cigarette butts in front of her 

188 



and a coronal of smoke revolving slowly about her head of hackect* 
off black hair. 

she said in the tone of the matron of a home for way- 
ward girls from inside the smoke screen, but I didn’t answer. J 
walked straight over to her, past the form of Sugar-Boy, who snored 
in a chair, and grabbed a handful of that wild black Irish hair to 
steady her head and kissed her smack on the forehead before she 
could God-damn me. 

Which she did. 

**You have no idea why I did that,'* I said. 

“I don’t care, just so it isn’t a habit." 

**lt was nothing personal," I said. "It was just because your name 
is not Dumonde." 

‘Tour name is going to be mud if you don’t get on in there," she 
said, and twitched her head in the direction of a door. 

"Maybe I’ll resign," I said in my whimsey, then for a split second, 
with a surprising flash in my head like the flash of a photographer's 
bulb, I thought maybe I would. 

Sadie was just about to say something, when the telephone rang 
and she sprang at it as though she’d strangle it with her bare hands, 
and snatched up the receiver. As I walked toward the inner door, 1 
heard her saying, "So you got him. All right, get him to town here. 
... To hell with his wife. Tell him he’ll be sicker’n sh^ is if he 
don’t come. . . . Yeah, tell him—" 

Then I knocked on the inner door, heard a voice, and went in. 

I saw the Boss in shirt sleeves, cocked back in an easy chair with 
his sock-feet propped on a straight chair in front of him, and his tie 
askew, and his eyes bugging out and a forefinger out in the air in 
front of him as though it were the stock of a bull whip. Then I saw 
what the snapper of the bull whip would have been flicking the 
flies off of if that forefinger of the Boss had been the stock of a bull 
whip: it was Mr. Byram B. White, State Auditor, and his long bony 
paraffin-colored face was oozing a few painful drops of moisture 
and his eyes reached out and grabbed me like the last hope. 

I took in the fact that I was intruding. 

"Excuse me," I said, and started to back out of the door. 

"Shut the door and sit down," the Boss said, and his voice moved 
right on without any punctuation to something it had been saying 
before my entrance, and the forefinger snapped, "—and you can just 
damned well remember you aren’t supposed to get rich. A fellow 
like you, fifty years old and gut-shot and teeth gone and never had 
a dime, if God-Almighty had ever intended you to be rich he’d 
done it long back. Look at yourself, damn it! You to figure you’re 

m 



supposed to be rich, it is plain blasphemy. Look at yourself. Ain’t 
it a fact?” And the forefinger leveled at Mr. Byram B. White. 

But Mr. White did not answer. He just stood there in his unhap- 
piness and looked at the finger. 

“God damn it, has the cat got your tongue?” the Boss demanded. 
“Can’t you answer a civil question?” 

“Yes,” Mr. White managed with gray lips tliat scarcely moved. 

“Speak up, don’t mumble, say. Its a fact, it’s a blasphemous 
fact,' ” the Boss insisted, still pointing the finger. 

Mr. White’s lips went grayer, and the voice was less than loud 
and clear, but he said it. Every v;ord. 

“All right, that’s better,” the Boss said. “Now you know what 
you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to stay pore and take orders. 
I don’t care about your chastity, which from the looks of you you 
don’t have any trouble keeping plenty of, but I mean it’s poverty 
and obedience and don’t you forget it. Especially the last. There’ll 
be a little something coming to you now and then in the way of 
sweetening, but Dufiy’ll tend to that. Don’t you go setting up on 
your own any more. There just aren't going to be any one-man 
bonanzas. You got that? Speak upl” 

“Yes,” Mr. White said. 

“Louderl And say, T got that' ” 

He said it. Louder. 

“All right,” the Boss said, “I’m going to stop this impeachment 
business for you. But don’t go and get the notion it’s because I love 
you. It’s just because those fellows Can’t get the idea they can just 
up and knock off somebody. Are my motives clear?” 

“Yes,” Mr. White said. 

“All right, then sit down over there at that desk.” And the Boss 
pointed at the little desk with the pen tray and telephone. “Get a 
sheet of plain paper out of the drawer and take your pen in hand.” 
He waited until Mr. White had glided spectrally across the room 
and settled himself at the desk, making himself remarkably small, 
like the genie getting ready to go back into the bottle, drawing him- 
self into a hunch as tliough he wanted to assume the prenatal posi- 
tion and be little and warm and safe in the dark. But the Boss was 
saying, “Now write what I say.” Then he began to dictate: “Dear 
Governor Stark,— because of ill health— which renders it difiScult for 
me to attend conscientiously—” The Boss interrupted himself, say- 
ing, “Be sure you put that conscientiously in now, you wouldn’t 
want to leave that out,” and then continued in the business voice— 
“to the duties of my position as Auditor— I wish to offer my resigna- 
tion— to take effect as soon after the above date— as you can relieve 

140 



me.” He eyed the hunched figure, and added, “Respectfully yours.”' 

There was silence, and the pen scratched across the paper, then 
stopped. But Mr. White's tall, bald, narrow head remained bent 
over close to the paper, as though he were nearsighted, or praying, 
or had lost whatever it is in the back of a neck that keeps a head 
up straight. 

The Boss studied the back of the bent head. Then he demanded, 
“Did you sign it?” 

“No,” the voice said. 

“Well, God damn it, signi” Then when the pen had again 
stopped scratching across the paper, “Don't put any date on it. I 
can fill that in when I want.” 

Mr. White's head did not lift. From where I sat I could see that 
his hand still held the pen staff, the point still touching the paper 
at the end of the last letter of his name. 

“Bring it here,” the Boss said. 

Mr. White rose and turned, and I looked at his still bent-over 
face to see what I could see. His eyes didn't have any appeal in 
them now as he swung them past me. They didn't have anything in 
them. They were as numb and expressionless as a brace of gray 
oysters on the half shell. 

He held out the sheet to the Boss, who read it, folded it, tossed 
it over to the foot of the bed near which he sat. “Yeah,” he said, 
“I'll fill in the date when I need to. If I need to. It all depends on 
you. But you know. Byram— why I didn't get one of those undated 
resignations from you from the start I don’t know. I got a stack of 
'em. But I just misjudged you. I just took one look at you, and said, 
'Shucks, there ain't any harm in the old bugger.' I figured you were 
so beat down you'd know the good Lord never meant for you to 
be rich. I figured you never would try to pull any shines. Shucks, 
I figured you didn't have any more initiative than a wet washrag 
dropped on the bathroom floor in a rooming house for old maids. 
I was wrong. Byram, I am free to confess. Fifty years old and all 
that time just waiting your one big chance. Waiting for your ship 
to come in. Saving up one little twitch and try like a one-nut for 
his wedding night. Waiting for the big chance, and this was it, and 
everything was going to be different. But—” and he whipped the 
forefinger at Mr. White again— “you were wrong. Byram. This was 
not your chance. And there never will be one. Not for the likes of 
you* Now get outl” 

Mr. White got out. One second he was there, and the next second 
he wasn't there, and there had been scarcely a sound for his pass- 
ing. There was just the empty space which had been occupied by 

141 



the empty space which went by the name of Mr. Byram B. White; 

“Well,” I said to the Boss, “you gave yourself a good time.” 

“Damn it,” he said, “it's just something in their eyes makes you 
do it. This fellow now, he’d lick spit, and you can see that, and it 
makes you do it.” 

“Yeah,” I said, “it looks like he’s a long worm with no turning, 
all right.” 

“I gave him every chance,” the Boss said glumly. “Every chance. 
He didn’t have to say what I told him to say. He didn’t have to 
listen to me. He could have just walked out the door and kept on 
walking. He could have put a date on that resignation and handed 
it to me. He could have done a dozen things. But did he? Hell, no. 
Not Byram, and he just stands there and his eyes blink right quick 
like a dog’s do when he leans up against your leg before you hit 
him, and, by God, you have the feeling if you don’t do it you won’t 
be doing G^’s will. You do it because you are helping Byram ful- 
fill his nature.” 

“Not that it’s* any of my business,” I said, “but what’s all the 
shouting about?” 

“Didn’t you read the paper?” 

“No, I was on vacation.” 

“And Sadie didn't tell you?” 

“Just got here,” I said. 

“Well, Byram rigged him up a nice little scheme to get rich. Got 
himself a tie-in with a realty outfit and fixed things up with Hamill 
in the Tax Lands Bureau. Pretty, only they wanted it all to them- 
selves and somebody got sore at not being cut in, and squawked 
to the MacMurfee boys in the Legislature. And if I get my hands 
on who it was—” 

“Was what?” 

“Squawked to the MacMurfee outfit. Ought to taken it up with 
Duffy. Everybody knows he’s supposed to handle complaints. And 
now we got this impeachment business.” 

“Of who?” 

“Byram.” 

“What's happened to Hamill?” 

“He’s moved to Cuba. You know, better climate. And, from re« 
ports, he moved fast. Duffj^ went around this morning, and Hamill 
caught a train. But we got to handle this impeachment.” 

“I don’t think they could put it through.” 

“They ain’t even going to try. You let a thing like that get 
started and no telling what’ll happen. The time to stomp ’em is 

142 



now. IVe got boys out picking up soreheads and wobblies and get- 
ting ’em to town. Sadie's been on the phone all day taking the 
news. Some of the birds are hiding out, for the word must have got 
round by this time, but the boys are running 'em down. Brought 
in three this afternoon, and we gave 'em what it took. But we had 
something ready on them all. You ought to’ve seen Jeff Hopkins's 
face when he found out I knew about his pappy selling likker out 
of that little one-horse drugstore he’s got over in Talmadge and 
then forging prescriptions for the record. Or Martten's when he 
found out I knew how the bank over in Okaloosa holds a mortgage 
on his place falling due in about five weeks. Well—” and he wrig- 
gled his toes comfortably inside of the socks— quieted their nerves. 
It’s the old tonic, but it still soothes.” 

”What am I supposed to do?” 

”Get over to Harmonville tomorrow and see if you can beat 
some sense into Sim Harmon's head.” 

”That all?” 

Before he could answer Sadie popped her head in the door, and 
said the boys had brought in Witherspoon, who was a representa- 
tive from the north tip of the state. 

“Put him in the other room,” the Boss said, “and let him stew.” 
Then, as Sadie popped out again, he turned to me and answered 
my question. “All, except get me together all you have on A1 Coyle 
before you leave town. The boys are trying to run him down and 
I want to be heeled when they book him.” 

“O.K.,” I said, and stood up. 

He looked at me as though he were about to say something. For 
a second I had the notion that he was working himself up to it, 
and I stood in front of my chair, waiting. But Sadie stuck her head 
in. “Mr. Miller would like to see you,” she said to the Boss, and 
didn’t give the impression of glad tidings. 

“Send him in,” the Boss ordered, and I could tell that, no mat- 
ter what he had had on his mind to say to me a second before, he 
had something else on it now. He had Hugh Miller, Harvard Law 
School, Lafayette Escadrille, Croix de Guerre, clean hands, pure 
heart, Attorney General, on his mind. 

“He won't like it,” I said. 

“No,” he said, “he won't.” 

And then in the doorway stood the tail, lean, somewhat stooped 
man, with swarthy face and unkempt dark hair and sad eyes under 
black brows, and with a Phi Beta Kappa key slung across his untidy 
blue serge. He stood there for a second, blinking the sad eyes, as 

m 



though he had come out of darkness into a sudden light, or had 
stumbled into the wrong room. He looked like the wrong thing 
to be coining through that door, all right. 

The Boss had stood up and padded across in his sock-feet, hold- 
ing out his hand, saying, **Hello, Hugh.” 

Hugh Miller shook hands, and stepped into the room, and I 
started to edge out the door. Then I caught the Boss’s eye, and he 
nodded, quick, toward my chair. So I shook hands with Hugh 
Miller, too, and sat back down. 

“Have a seat,” the Boss said to Hugh Miller. 

“No, thanks, Willie,” Hugh Miller replied in his slow solemn 
way. “But you sit down, Willie.” 

The Boss dropped back into his chair, cocked his feet up again, 
and demanded, “What's on your mind?” 

“I reckon you know,” Hugh Miller said. 

“I reckon I do,” the Boss said. 

“You are saving White's hide, aren't you?” 

“I don’t give a damn about White’s hide,” the Boss said. “I'm 
saving something else.” 

“He's guilty.” 

“As hell,” the Boss agreed cheerfully. “If the category of guilt 
and innocence can be said to have any relevance to something like 
Byram B. White.” 

“He's guilty,” Hugh Miller said. 

“My God, you talk like Byram was humani He's a thing! You 
don't prosecute an adding machine if a spring goes bust and makes 
a mistake. You fix it. Well, I fixed Byram. 1 fixed him so his un- 
born great-grandchildren will wet their pants on this anniversary 
and not know why. Boy, it will be the shock in the genes. Hell, 
Byram is just something you use, and he'll sure be useful from 
now on.” 

“That sounds fine, Willie, but it just boils down to the fact' 
you're saving White’s hide.” 

“White's hide be damned,” the Boss said, “I’m saving something 
else. You let that gang of MacMurfee's boys in the Legislature get 
the notion they can pull something like this and there’s no telling 
where they’d stop. Do you think they like anything that’s been 
done? The extraction tax? Raising the royalty rate on state land? 
The income tax? The highway program? The Public Health Bill?” 

“No, they don't,” Hugh Miller admitted rather, the people 
behind MacMurfee don't like it.” 

“Do you like it?” 


144 



**Yes,” Hugh Miller said, “I like it. But I can’t say I like some 
of the stuff around it.” 

”Hugh,” the Boss said, and grinned, “the trouble with you is 
you are a lawyer. You are a damned fine lawyer.” 

“You’re a lawyer,” Hugh Miller said. 

“No,” the Boss corrected, “I’m not a lawyer. I know some law. 
In fact, I know a lot of law. And I made me some money out of 
law. But I'm not a lawyer. That’s why I can see what the law is 
like. It’s like a single-bed blanket on a double bed and three folks 
in the bed and a cold night. There ain’t ever enough blanket to 
cover the case, no matter how much pulling and hauling, and some- 
body is always going to nigh catch pneumonia. Hell, the law is 
like the pants you bought last year for a growing boy, but it is 
always this year and the seams are popped and the shankbones to 
the breeze. The law is always too short and too tight for growing 
humankind. The best you can do is do something and then make 
up some law to fit and by the time that law gets on the books you 
would have done something different. Do you think half the things 
I’ve done were clear, distinct, and simple m the constitution of this 
state?” 

“The Supreme Court has ruled—” Hugh Miller began. 

“Yeah, and they ruled because I put ’em there to rule it, and 
they saw what had to be done. Half the things weren*t in the con- 
stitution but they are now, by God. And how did they get there? 
Simply because somebody did ’em.” 

The blood began to climb up in Hugh Miller’s face, and he 
shook his head just a little, just barely, the way a slow animal does 
when a fly skims by. Then he said, “There’s nothing in the consti- 
tution says that Byram B. White can commit a felony with im- 
punity.” 

“Hugh,” the Boss began, soft, “don’t you see that Byram doesn’t 
mean a thing? Not in this situation. What they’re after is to break 
the administration. They don’t care about Byram, except so far as 
it’s human nature to hate to think somebody else is getting some- 
thing when you aren’t. What they care about is undoing what this 
administration has done. And now is the time to stomp ’em. And 
when you start out to do something—” he sat up straight in the 
chair now, with his hands on the overstuffed sides, and thrust his 
head forward at Hugh Miller-^“you got to use what you’ve got. 
You got to use fellows like Byram, and Tiny Duffy, and that scum 
down in the Legislature. You can’t make bricks without straw, and 
most of the time all the straw you got is secondhand straw from 

145 



the cowpen. And if you think you can make it any difEerent, you're 
crazy as a hoot owl.*' 

Hugh Miller straightened his shoulders a little. He did not look 
at the Boss but at the wall beyond the Boss. “I am offering my 
resignation as Attorney General/* he said. “'You will have it in 
writing, by messenger, in the morning.*’ 

**You took a long time to do it,” the Boss said softly. long 
time, Hugh. What made you take such a long time?” 

Hugh Miller didn’t answer, but he did move liis gaze from the 
wall to the Boss*s face. 

*1*11 tell you, Hugh/* the Bess said. *‘You sat in your law office 
fifteen years and watched the sons-of-bitches warm chairs in this 
state and not do a thing, and the rich get richer and the pore get 
porer. Then I came along and slipped a Louisville Slugger in your 
hand and whispered low, ‘You want to step in there and lay round 
you a little?’ And you did. You had a wonderful time. You made 
the fur fly and you put nine tin-horn grafters in the pen. But you 
never touched what was behind ’em. The law isn’t made for that. 
All you can do about that is take the damned government away 
from the behind guys and keep it away from ’em. Whatever way 
you can. You know that down in your heart. You want to keep 
your Harvard hands clean, but way down in your heart you know 
I’m telling the truth, and you’re asking the benefit of somebody 
getting his little patties potty-black. You know you’re w^elching if 
you pull out. That,” he said, softer than ever, and leaned toward 
Hugh Miller, peering up at him, “is why it took you so long to 
do it. To puli out.” 

Hugh Miller looked down at him a half minute, do’wm into the 
beefy upturned face and the steady protruding eyes. There was a 
shadowed, puzzled expression on Hugh Miller’s face, as though he 
were trying to read something in a bad light, or in a foreign lan- 
guage he didn’t know very well. Then he said, “My mind is made 
up.” 

“I know your mind’s made up,” the Boss said. “I know I couldn’t 
change your mind, Hugh.” He stood up in front of his chair, 
hitched his trousers up, the way a fellow has to who is putting it 
on some around the middle, and sock-footed over to Hugh Miller. 
“Too bad,” he said. “You and me make quite a team. Your brains 
and my brawn.” 

Hugh Miller gpve something which resembled an incipient 5 in<n» , 
“No hard feelings?” the Boss said, and stuck out his haH 
Hug^i Miller took it 


146 



*1£ you don't give up likker, you might drop in and have a drini' 
with me some time/* the Boss said. “I won't talk politics." 

'‘All right/' Hugh Miller said, and turned toward the door. 

He had just about made the door, when the Boss said, “Hugh.** 
Hugh Miller stopped and looked back. 

“You're leaving me all alone," the Boss said, in semicomic woe? 
“with the sons-of-bitches. Mine and the other fellow's." 

Hugh Miller smiled in a stiff, embarrassed way, shook his head, 
said, “Hell— Willie—" let his voice trail off without ever saying what 
he had started to say, and then Harvard Law School, Lafayette 
Escadrille, Croix de Guerre, clean hands and pure heart, was with 
us no longer. 

The Boss sank down on the foot of the bed, heaved his left ankle 
up over his right knee; and while he meditatively scratched the 
left foot, the way a farmer does when he takes off his shoes at night, 
he stared at the closed door. 

“With the sons-o£-bitches," he said, and let the foot slip off the 
knee and plop to the floor, while he still stared at the door, 

I stood up again. It was my third try for getting out of the place 
and getting back to my hotel for some sleep. The Boss could sit 
up all night, night after night, and never show it, and that fact was 
sure hell on his associates. I edged toward the door again, but the 
Boss swung his stare to me and I knew something was coming. So 
I just stopped and waited for it, while the stare worked over my 
face and tried to probe around in the gray stuff inside my head, 
like a pair of forceps. 

Then he said, “You think I ought to thrown White to the 
wolves?'* 

“It's a hell of a time to be asking that question/* I said. 

“You think I ought?" 

**Ought is a funny word," I said, “If you mean, to win, then time 
will tell. If you mean, to do right, then nobody will ever be able 
to tell you." 

“What do you think?" 

“Thinking is not my line," I said, “and I'd advise you to stop 
thinking about it because you know damned well what you are 
going to do. You are going to do what you are doing,** 

“Lucy is figuring on leaving," he said calmly, as though that 
answered something I had said. 

“Well, I'm damned," I said, in genuine surprise, for I had Lucy 
figured as the long-suffering type on whose bosom repentant tears 
always eventually fall. Very eventually. Then my glance strayed to 

147 



dyts closed door, beyond which Sadie Burke sat in front of the 
telephone with that pair of black bituminous eyes in the middle 
of the pocked face and cigarette smoke tangled in that wild black 
hacked-off Irish hair like morning mist in a pine thicket. 

He caught my glance at the door. “No," he said, “it’s not that." 

“Well, that would be enough by ordinary standards," I said. 

“She didn’t know. Not that I know of." 

“She’s a woman," I said, “and they can smell it." 

“That wasn't it," he said. “She said if I took care of Byram White 
she would leave me." 

“Looks like everybody is trying to run your business for you." 

“God damn iti" he said, and came up off the bed, and paced 
savagely across the carpet for four paces, and swung, and paced 
again, and seeing that motion and the heavy sway of the head when 
he turned, I thought back to the nights when I had heard the 
pacing in the next room in those jerkwater hotels over the state, 
back in the days when the Boss had been Willie Stark, and Willie 
Stark had been the sucker with the high-school-debater speech full 
of facts and figures and the kick-me sign on his coattails. 

Weil, I was seeing it now~the lunging, taut motion that had then 
been on the other side of the wall, in the dry-goods-box little hotel 
room. Well, it was out of that room now. It was prowling the veldt 

“God damn itI" he said again, “they don't know a thing about it, 
they don’t know how it is, and you can’t tell ’em." 

He paced back and forth a couple of times more, then said, 
'TThey don’t know." 

He swung again, paced, and stopped, his head thrust out toward 
me. “You know what I’m going to do? Soon as I bust the tar out 
of that gang." 

“No," I said, “I don’t know." 

“I’m going to build me the God-damnedest, biggest, chromium- 
platedest, formaldehyde-stinkingest free hospital and health center 
the All-Father ever let live. Boy, I tell you, I’m going to have a 
cage of canaries in every room that can sing Italian grand opera 
and there ain’t going to be a nurse hasn’t won a beauty contest at 
Atlantic City and every bedpan will be eighteen-carat gold and by 
God, every bedpan will have a Swiss music-box attachment to play 
Turkey in the Straw’ or The Sextet from Lucia,’ take your choice." 

“That will be swell,” I said. 

“I’ll do it," he said. “You don’t believe me, but Tm going to 
do it." 

“I believe every word of it," I said. 

I was dead for sleep. I stood there, rocking on my heels, and 

148 



through the haze I watched him pace and swing and lunge, ana 
sway his big head, with the hair coming down to his eyes. 

I supposed then that it was a wonder that Lucy Stark hadn’t 
packed her suitcase a long time before. I didn’t see how she didn’t 
know about something which could scarcely be called a secret. 
When it began I never knew. But it was already full blown when 
I found out about it. llie Boss went up to Chicago on a litde 
piece of private business, about six or eight months after he got 
to be Governor, and took me with him. Up there a fellow named 
Josh Conklin did us the town, and he was the man to do it, a big, 
burly fellow, with prematurely white hair and a red face and black, 
beetling eyebrows and a dress suit that fitted him like a corset and 
a trick apartment like a movie set and an address book an inch 
thick. He wasn’t the real thing, but he sure was a good imitation 
of it, which is frequently better than the real thing, for the real 
thing can relax but the imitation can’t afford to and has to spend 
all the time being just one cut more real than the real thing, with 
money no object. He took us to a night club where they rolled out 
a sheet of hoiiest-to-God ice on the floor and a bevy of “Nordic 
Nymphs” in silver gee-strings and silver brassieres came skating out 
on real skates to whirl and fandango and cavort and sway to the 
music under the housebroke aurora borealis with the skates flash- 
ing and the white knees flashing and white arms serpentining in 
the blue light, and the little twin, hard-soft columns of muscle and 
flesh up the backbones of the bare backs swaying and working in 
a beautiful reciprocal motion, and what was business under the 
silver brassieres vibrating to music, and the long unbound un- 
snooded silver innocent Swedish hair trailing and floating and 
whipping in the air. 

It took the boy from Mason City, who had never seen any ice 
except the skim-ice on the horse trough. “Jesus,” the boy from 
Mason City said, in unabashed admiration. And then, “Jesus.” And 
he kept swallowing hard, as though he had a sizable chunk of dry 
corn pone stuck in his throat. 

It was over, and Josh Conklin said politely, “How did you like 
that. Governor?” 

“They sure can skate,” the Governor said. 

Then one of the Swedish-haired nymphs came out of the dress- 
ing room with her skates off and a silver cloak draped over her bare 
shoulders, and came over to our table. She was a friend of Josh 
Conklin’s, and a very nice friend to have even if the hair had not 
come from Sweden but from the drugstore. Well, she had a friend 

149 



ill the act, so she got her friend, who quickly made friends with 
the Governor, who, for the rest of the stay in Chicago, practically 
dropped cut of my life except for the period every night when the 
skating was going on. Then he'd be sitting there watching the 
gyrating, and swallowing on the chunk of dry corn pone stuck in 
his throat. Then when the last act was over he'd say, “Good night. 
Jack," and he and the friend of the friend of Josh Conklin would 
head off into the night, 

I don't know that Lucy ever knew about the skating rink, but 
Sadie did. For Sadie had channels of information dosed to the 
home-maker type. When the Boss and I got back home, and the 
Nordic Nymphs w^ere but a fond memory, a soft sweet spot in the 
heart like the bruised place in a muskmelon, it was Sadie who 
raised the seven varieties of Hibernian hell. The very morning the 
Boss and I hit town, I heard rumblings from inside the Boss's office 
as I stood in the outer room chatting with the girl who was the 
receptionist and catching up with tlie gossip. I noticed the racket 
inside, a noise like somebody slamming a book on a desk and then 
a voice, Sadie's voice. “What's going on?” I asked the girl. 

“Yeah, you tell me what went on in Chicago," the girl said. 

“Oh," exclaimed I in nty innocence, “so that is it." 

“Oh," she exclaimed, mimicking me, “that was it, and howl" 

I retired to the door of my cubbyhole, which opened off the out- 
ride room. I was standing just inside, with my door wide open, 
when Sadie burst out of the Boss's door about the way one of the 
big cats, no doubt, used to bounce out of the hutch at the far end 
of the arena and head for the Christian martyr. Her hair was flying 
with distinct life and her face was chalk-white with the pock marks 
making it look like riddled plaster, like, say, a piaster-of-Paris mask 
of Medusa which some kid has been using as a target for a BB gun. 
But in the middle of the plaster-of-Paris mask was an event which 
had nothing whatsoever to do with plaster of Paris: her eyes, and 
they were a twin disaster, they were a black explosion, they were 
a conflagration. She was running a head of steam to bust the rivets, 
and the way she snatched across the floor you could hear the seams 
pop in her skirt 

Then she caught sight of me, and without change of pace swung 
straight into my room and slammed the door behind her. 

“The son-of-a-bitch," she said, and stood there panting and glar* 
ing at me. 

“You needn't blame me,” I said. 

“The son-of-a-bitch," she iterated, glaring, “I'll kill him, I swear 
to God 111 kill him." 


150 



“you set a high valuation on something/’ J said. 

*‘111 ruin him, 111 drive him out of this state, I swear to God, 
The son-o£-a-bitch to two-time me after all IVe done for him. 
tisten— she said, and grabbed a handful of my lapels in each of 
her strong hands and shook me. (Her hands were squarish and 
strong and hard like a man’s.) ‘‘Listen— ” she repeated. 

“You needn’t choke me,” I protested peevishly, “and I don’t want 
to listen. I know too God-damned much now.” And I wasn’t jok- 
ing. I didn’t want to listen. The world was full of things I didn’t 
want to know. 

“Listen—” and she shook me— “who made that son-of-a-bitch what 
he is today? Who made him Governor? Who took him when he 
was the Sap of the Year and put him in big time? Who gave it to 
him, play by play so he couldn’t lose?” 

“I reckon you mean for me to say you did.” 

“And it’s the truth,” she said, “and he goes and two-times me, 
the-” 

“No,” I said, trying to get loose from the grip on my lapels, “he 
was two-timing Lucy, so you need some other kind of arithmetic 
for what he was doing to you. But I don’t know whether you mul- 
tiply or divide in a case like this.” 

“Lucy!” she burst out from lips that coiled and contorted. “Lucy 
—she’s a fool. She had her way and he'd be in Mason City slopping 
the hogs right now, and he knows it. He knows what she’d do for 
him. If he listened to her. She had her chance, she—” She simply 
stopped for breath, but you could see the words still blazing on in 
her head while she gasped for air. 

“I see you seem to think Lucy is on the way out,” I said. 

“Lucy—” she said, and stopped, but the tone said everything 
there was to say about Lucy, who was a country girl, and had gone 
to a hick Baptist college where they believed in God, and had 
taught the little towheaded snots in the Mason County school, and 
had married Willie Stark and given him a kid, and had missed 
her chance. Then she added, suddenly quiet, in a grim matter-of- 
factness, “Give him time— he’ll ditch her, the son-of-a-bitch.” 

“You ought to know,” I said, simply because I couldn’t resist the 
logic of the proposition, but I hadn’t got it out before she slapped 
me. Which is what you ask for when you start mixing into affairs, 
public or private. 

“It’s the wrong guy,” I said, fingering my cheek and backing oft 
a step from the heat, for she was about to blaze, “I’m not the hero 
of the piece.” 

Then she wasn’t about to blaze, at all She stood there in a kind 

151 



of heavy numbness inside the sagging clothes. I saw a tear gather 
at the inner comer of each eye, gather very slowly and swollenly 
and then run down with the precision of a tiny mechanical toy, 
one on each side of the slightly pitted nose, until they simulta- 
neously arrived at the smear of dark lipstick, and spread. I saw the 
tongue come out and fastidiously touch the upper lip as though to 
sample the salt. 

She was looking straight at me all the time as though if she 
looked hard enough she might see the answer to something. 

Then she went past me to the wall, where a mirror hung, and 
stared into the mirror, putting her face up close to the mirror and 
turning it a little from side to side, slowly. I couldn’t see what was 
in the mirror, just the back of her head. 

**What was she like?” she asked, distantly and dispassionately. 

**Who?” I asked, and it was an honest question. 

'**In Chicago,” she said. 

‘‘She was just a little tart,” I said, “with fake Swedish hair on 
her head and skates on her feet and practically nothing on in 
between.” 

“Was she pretty?” the distant and dispassionate voice asked. 

“Hell,” I said, “if I met her on the street tomorrow I wouldn’t 
recognize her.” 

“Was she pretty?” the voice said. 

“How do I know?” I demanded, peevish again. “The condition 
she earned her living in you didn’t get around to noticing her face.’* 

“Was she pretty?” 

“For Christ’s sake, forget it,” I said. 

She turned around, and came toward me, holding her hands up 
at about the level of the chin, one on each- side, the fingers together 
and slightly bent, not touching her face. She came up close to .me 
and stopped. “Forget it?” she repeated, as though she had just 
heard my words. 

Then she lifted her hands a little, and touched the white riddled 
plaster-of' Paris mask, touching it on each side, just barely prodding 
the surface as though it were swollen and painful. “Look,” she 
commanded. 

She held it there for me to look at. “Look!” she commanded vin- 
dictively, and jabbed her fingers into the flesh, hard. For it was 
flesh, it wasn’t plaster of Paris at all. 

“Yes, look,” she said, “and we lay up there in that God-forsaken 
shack— both of us, my brother and me— we were kids— and it was 
the smallpox— and my father was a drunk no-good— he was off 
drunk, crying and drinking in a saloon if he could beg a dime— 

152 



crying and telling how the kiddies, the sweet little angel kiddies, 
was sick— oh, he was a drunk lousy warm-hearted kid-beating crying 
Irishman— and my brother died— and he ought to have lived— it 
wouldn't have mattered to him— not to a man— but me, I didn't 
die— I didn't die, and I got well— and my father, he would look at 
me and grab me and start kissing me all over the face, all over the 
holes, slobbering and crying and stinking of whisky— or he’d look 
at me and say, ‘Jeez,' and slap me in the face— and it was all the 
same— it was all the same, for I wasn't the one that died— I didn’t 
die-I-” 

It was all a breathless monotony, suddenly cut off. She had 
groped out for me and had seized the cloth of my coat in her hands 
and had stuck her bowed head up against my chest. So I stood 
there with my right arm around her shoulder, patting her, patting 
and making a kind of smoothing-out motion with my hand on 
the back that shook soundlessly with what I took to be sobs. 

Then, not lifting her head, she was saying, “It’s going to be like 
that— it’s always been that way, and it’ll keep on— being like that—" 

It, 1 thought, and thought she was talking about the face. 

But she wasn’t, for she was saying, “—it’ll keep on— they’ll kiss it 
and slobber— then they’ll slap you in the face— no matter what you 
do, do anything for them, make them what they are— take them out 
of the gutter and make something out of them— and they'll slap you 
in the face— the first chance— because you had smallpox— they’ll see 
some naked slut on skates and they'll slap you in the face— they’ll 
kick up dirt in your face—" 

I kept on patting and making the smoothing-out motion, for 
there wasn’t anything else to do. 

“—that’s the way it’ll be— always some slut on skates— some— " 

“Look here,” I said, still patting, “you make out. What do you 
care what he does?” 

She jerked her head up. “What do you know, what the hell do^ 
you know?” she demanded, and dug her fingers into my coat and 
shook me. 

“If it’s all this grief,” I said, “let him go,” 

“Let him gol Let him gol I’ll kill him first, I swear it,” she said,- 
glaring at me out of the now red eyes. “Let him go? Listen here—*" 
and she shook me again— “if he does run after some slut, he’ll come 
back. He’s got to come back, do you hear? He’s got to. Because he 
can’t do without me. And he knows it. He can do without any of 
those sluts, but he can’t do without me. Not without Sadie Burke, 
and he knows it.” 

And she lifted her face up, high, almost thrusting it at me, as. 

153 



tliough she were showing me something I ought damned well to be 
proud to look at. 

“Hell always come back,” she asserted grimly. 

And she was right. He always came back. The world was' full of 
sluts on skates, even if some of them weren't on skates. Some of 
them wore grass skirts and some of them pounded typewriters and 
some of them checked hats and some of them were married to 
legislators, but he always came back. Not necessarily to be greeted 
with open arms and a tender smile, however. Sometimes it was a 
cold silence like the arctic night. Sometimes it was delirium for 
every seismograph on the continent. Sometimes it "was a single well- 
chosen epithet. For instance, the time the Boss and I had to do a 
little trip up to the north of the state. The afternoon we got back 
we walked into the Capitol and there, in the stately lobby, under 
the great bronze dome, was Sadie. We approached her. She waited 
until we had arrived, then said, without preliminary, quite simply, 
“You bastard.” 

“Gee, Sadie,” the Boss said, and grinned his grin of the wayward, 
attractive boy, “you don't even wait to find out anything.” 

“You just can't keep buttoned up, you bastard,” she said, still 
simply, and walked away. 

“Gee,” the Boss said ruefully to me, “I didn't do a thing this 
trip, and look what happens.” 

What did Lucy Stark know? I don't know. As far as you could 
tell, she didn't know anything. Even when she told the Boss she 
was going to pack her bag, it was, so he said, because he hadn't 
thrown Byram B. White to the v/olves. 

But she didn't pack the bag, even then. 

She didn't pack it because she was too honorable, or too gener- 
ous, or too something, to hit him when she thought he was down. 
Or about to go down. She wasn't going to add the weight of her 
thumb to what closely resembled a tidy package of disaster lying 
on the scales with the -blood seeping through the brown paper. 
For the impeachment of Byram B. White had become a minor 
issue. They had uncorked the real stuff: the impeachment of Willie 
Stark. 

I don't know whether or not they had planned it that way. Or 
whether they were forced into it before they planned whenT they 
figured the Boss was turning on too much heat and it was their 
only chance to get back on the offensive. Or whether they figured 
that the Lord had delivered the enemy into their hands, that they 
could get him dead to rights on the business of attempting to cor- 
rupt, coerce, and blackmail the Legislature, in addition to the other 

154 



ixctle charges of malfeasance and nonfeasance. Maybe tliey had 
some heroes lined up from among the ranks to testify that they 
had had the heat put on them. It would have taken a hero, too 
(or sound inducements), for nobody but a half-wit would have 
believed, in the light of the record, that the Boss was biuiHing. But 
apparently they fibred they had found, or bought, some heroes. 

Anyway, they tried it, and for a brief interval life was a blur for 
speed. I gravely doubt that the Boss did any sleeping for two 
weeks. That is, bed sleeping. No doubt, he snatched something in 
the back of automobiles roaring down highways at night, or in a 
chair between the time one fellow went out the door and the next 
came in. He roared across the state at eighty miles an hour, the 
horn screaming, -from town to town, crossroads to crossroads, five, 
or six, or seven, or eight speakings in a day. He would come out on 
the platform, almost slouching out, lounging out, as though all 
the time in the world were before him and all the time were his. 
He would begin, easy, “Folks, there’s going to be a leetle mite of 
trouble back in town. Between me and that Legislature-ful of 
hyena-headed, feist-faced, belly-dragging sons of slack-gutted she- 
wolves. If you know what I mean. Well, I been looking, at them 
and their kind so long, I just figured I’d take me a little trip and 
see what human folks looked like in the face before I clean forgot. 
Well, you all look human. More or less. And sensible. In spite of 
what they’re saying back in that Legislature and getting paid five 
dollars a day of your tax money for saying it. They’re saying you 
didn’t have bat sense or goose gumption when you cast your sacred 
ballot to elect me Governor of this state. Maybe you didn’t have 
bat sense. Don’t ask me, I’m prejudiced. But—” and now he 
wouldn’t be lounging with his head cocked a little on one side in 
that easy sizing-up way, looking out from under the eyelids that 
drooped a little, for now he’d thrust, all at once, the heavy head 
forward, and the eyes, red from sleeplessness, would bulge— “I’ll ask 
you a question. And I want an answer. I want an answer before 
God and under the awful hand of the Most High. Answer me: 
Have I disappointed you? Have I?” Then, leaning sharply, he 
would lift his right hand while the question was still ringing in 
the air, and say, “Stop! Don’t answer until you look into the depth 
of your heart to see the truth. For there is where truth is. Not in 
a book. Not in a lawyer’s book. Not on any scrap of paper. In your 
heart,” Then, in the long pause, he would swing his gaze slowly 
over the crowd of faces. Then, “Answer me!” 

I would wait for the roar. You can’t help it. I knew it would 
come, but I would wait for it, and every time it would seem intoler- 

155 



ably long before it came. It was like a deep dive. You start up to- 
ward the light but you know you can*t breathe yet, not yet, and 
all you are aware of is the blood beating in your own head in the 
intolerable timelessness. Then the roar would come and I would 
feel the way you do when you pop out of the water from a deep 
dive and the air bursts out of your lungs and everything reels in 
the light. There is nothing like the roar of a crowd when it swells 
up, all of a sudden at the same time, out of the thing which is in 
every man in the crowd but is not himself. The roar would swell 
and rise and fall and swell again, with the Boss standing with his 
right arm raised straight to Heaven and his red eyes bulging. 

And when the roar fell away, he said, with his arm up, “I have 
looked in your facesi" 

And they would yell. 

And he said, “O Lord, and I have seen a signl” 

And they would yell again. 

And he said, have seen dew on the fleece and the ground. dry I** 

Then the yell. 

Then, “I have seen blood on the moon!” Then, ‘'Buckets of 
blood, and boyl I know whose blood it will be.” Then, leaning 
forward, grabbing out with his right hand as though to seize some- 
thing in Ae air before him, “Gimme that meat axl” 

It was always that way, or like that. And charging across the 
state with the horn screaming and blatting, and Sugar-Boy shaving 
the gasoline truck on the highway and the spit flying from his 
mouth while the lips worked soundlessly and words piled up inside 
him before he could get them out, “The b-b-b-bas-tudi” And the 
Boss standing up on something with his arm against the sky (it 
might be raining, it might be bright sun, it might be night and 
the red light from sizzling gasoline flares set on the porch of a 
country store), and the crowd yelling. And me so light-headed from 
no sleep that my head felt big as the sky and when I walked I 
seemed to be tiptoeing on clouds of cotton batting. 

All of that 

But this too: the Boss sitting in the Cadillac, all lights off, in the 
side street by a house, the time long past midnight. Or in tji^ coun- 
try, by a gate. The Boss leaning to a man, Sugar-Boy or one of 
Sugar-Boy's pals. Heavy Harris or A1 Perkins, saying low and fast, 
“Tell him to come out I know he's there. Tell him he better come 
out and talk to me. If he won't come, just say you're a friend of 
Ella Lou. That'll bring him.” Or, “Ask him if he ever heard of 
Slick Wilson.” Or something of the kind. And then there would be 

156 



a man standing there with pajama tops stuck in pants, shivering,, 
his face white in the darkness. 

And this: the Boss sitting in a room full of smoke, a pot of 
coffee on the floor, or a bottle, saying, “Bring the bastard in. Bring 
him in,** 

And when they had brought the bastard in, the Boss v^ould look 
him over slow, from head to foot, and then he would say, “This 
is your last chance.” He would say that slow and easy. Then he 
would lean suddenly forward, at the man, and say, not slow and 
easy now, “God damn you, do you know what I can do to you?? 

And he could do it, too. For he had the goods. 

On the afternoon of the fourth of April, 1933, the streets lead- 
ing to the Capitol were full of people, and they weren’t the kind 
of people you usually saw on those streets. Not in those num- 
bers, anyway. The Chronicle that night referred to the rumor of 
a march on the Capitol, but affirmed that justice would not be 
intimidated. Before noon on the fifth of April there were a lot 
more wool-hats and red-necks and Mother Hubbards and crepe-de- 
Chine dresses with red-clay dust about the uneven bottom hem, 
and a lot of clothes and faces which weren’t cocklebur and cross- 
roads, but county-seat and filling-station. The crowd moved up to- 
wai-d the Capitol, not singing or yelling, and spread out over the 
big lawn where the statues were. 

Men with tripods and cameras were scurrying about on the edges 
of the crowd, setting up their rigs on the Capitol steps, climbing 
on the bases of the frock-coafed statues to get shots. Here and there 
around the edge of the crowd you could see the blue coat of a 
mounted cop up above -the crowd, and in the open space of lawn 
between the crowd and the Capitol there were more cops, just 
standing, and a few highway patrolmen, very slick and business- 
like in their bright-green uniforms and black boots and black Sam 
Browne belts and dangling holsters. 

The crowd began chanting, “Willie, Willie, Willie-We want 
Williel” 

I looked out of a window on the second floor and saw it. I won- 
dered if the sound carried into the Chamber of Representatives, 
where they were yammeting and arguing and orating. Outside it 
was very simple, out there on the lawn, under the bright spring 
sky. No arguing. Very simple. “We want Willie-Wiilie, Willie, 
Williel” In a long rhythm, with a hoarse undertone, like surf. 

Then I saw a big black car pull slowly into the drive before the 
Capitol, and stop. A man got out, waved his hand to the cops, and 

157 



walked to the bandstand there ou the edge of the lawn. It was a 
fat man. Tiny Duffy. 

Then he was speaking to the crowd. I could not hear his words, 
but I knew what he was saying. He was saying that Willie Stark 
asked them to go peaceably into the city, to wait until dark, to be 
back on the lawn before the Capitol by eight o'clock, when he 
would have something to tell them. 

I knew what he would tell them. \ knew that he would stand up 
before them and say that he was still Governor of the state. 

I knew that, because early the previous evening, around seven- 
thirty, he had called me in and given me a big brown manila en- 
velope, *‘Lo%vdan is down at the Haskell Hotel," he said. “I know 
he's in his room now. Go dowm there and let him take a peep at 
that but don’t let him get his hands on it and tell him to call his 
dogs off. Not that it matters whether he does or not, for they’ve 
changed their minds," (Lowdan was the kingpin of the MacMurfee 
boy^ in the House.) 

I had gone down to the Haskell and to Mr. Lowdan’s room with- 
out sending my name. I knocked on the door, and when I heard 
*'he voice, said, "Message.” He opened the door, a big jovial-looking 
man with a fine manner, in a flowered dressing gown. He didn’t 
recognize me at first, just seeing a big brown envelope and some 
sort of face above it. But I withdrew the brown envelope just as his 
hand reached for it, anu stepped over the sill. Then he must have 
looked at the face. "Why, howdy-do, Mr, Burden," he said, "they 
say you’ve been right busy lately." 

"Loafing," I said, "just plain loafing. And I was just loafing by 
and thought I’d stop and show you something a fellow gave me.” 
I took the long sheet out of the envelope, and held it up for him 
to look at. "No, don’t touch, bum-y, burn-y," I said. 

He didn’t touch but he looked, hard. I saw his Adam’s apple 
jerk a couple of times; then he removed his cigar from his mouth 
(a good cigar, two-bit at least, by the smell) and said, "Fake." 

"The signatures are supposed to be genuine," I said, "but if you 
aren’t sure you might ring up one of your boys whose name you 
see on here and ask him man to man." 

He pondered that thought a moment, and the Adam’s apple 
worked again, harder now, but he was t^ing it like a soldier. Or 
he still thought it was a fake. Then he said, "I’ll call your bluff 
on that," and walked over to the telephone. 

Waiting for his number, he looked up and said, "Have a seat, 
won’t you?" 

"No, thanks," I said, for I didn’t regard the event as sociaL 

158 



Then lie had the number. 

"‘Monty,” he said into the phone, *‘IVe got a statement here to 
the effect that the undersigned hold that the impeachment proceed- 
ings are unjustified and will vote against them despite all pressure. 
That’s what it says— *all pressure.’ Your name’s on the list. How 
about it?” 

There was a long wait, then Mr. Lowdan said, ”For God’s sake, 
quit mumbling and blubbering and speak upl”' 

There was another wait, then Mr. Lowdan yelled, “You— you—” 
But words failed him, and he slammed the telephone to the cradle, 
and swung the big, recently jovial-looking face toward me. He was 
making a gasping motion wuth his mouth, but no sound. 

"‘Well,” I said, “you want to try another one?” 

“It’s blackmail,” he said, very quietly, but huskily as though he 
didn’t have the breath to spare. Then, seeming to get a little more 
breath, “It’s blackmail. It’s coercion. Bribery, it’s bribery. I tell you, 
you’ve blackmailed and bribed those men. and I—’ 

“I don’t know why anybody signed this statement,” I said, “but 
if what you charge should happen to be true then the moral strikes 
me as this: MacMurfee ought not to elect legislators who can be 
bribed or who have done things they can get blackmailed for.” 

“MacMurfee—” he began, then fell into a deep silence, his 
flowered bulk brooding over the telephone stand. He’d have his 
own troubles with Mr. MacMurfee, no doubt. 

“A small detail,” I said, “but it would probably be less em- 
barrassing to you, and especially to the signers of this document, 
if the impeachment proceedings were killed before coming to a 
vote. You might try to see about getting that done by late tomor- 
row. That should give you time to make your arrangements, and 
to figure out as graceful a way as possible. Of course, it would be 
more effective politically for the Governor to let the matter come 
to a vote, but he was willing to let you do it the easy way, particu- 
larly since there’s a good deal of unrest in the city about the mat- 
ter.” 

He wasn’t paying any attention to me, as far as I could tell. I 
went to the door, opened it, and looked back. “Ultimately,” I said, 
“it is immaterial to the Governor how you manage the matter.” 

Then I closed the door and went down the hall. 

That had been the night of the fourth of April. I was almost 
sorry, the next day as I looked out the high window at the mass of 
people filling the streets and the wide sweep of lawn beyond the 
statues in front of the Capitol, that I knew what I knew. If I hadn’t 
known, I could have stood there in the full excitement of the possi- 

159 



bilities of the moment. But I knew how the play would come out. 
This was like a dress rehearsal after the show has closed down. I 
stood there and felt like God-Almighty brooding on History. 

Which must be a dull business for God-Almighty, Who knows 
how it is going to come out. Who knew, in fact, how it was going 
to come out even before He knew there was going to be any His- 
tory. Which is complete nonsense, foi* that involves Time and He 
is out of Time, for God is Fullness of Being and in Him the End 
is the Beginning. Which is what you can read in the little tracts 
written and handed out on the street corners by the fat, grubby, 
dandruff-sprinkled old man, with the metal-rimmed spectacles, who 
used to be the Scholarly Attorney and who married the girl with 
the gold braids and the clear, famished-looking cheeks, up in Arkan- 
sas. But those tracts he wrote were crazy, I thought back then. I 
thought God cannot be Fullness of Being. For Life is Motion. 

(I use the capital letters as the old man did in the tracts. I had sat 
across the table from him, with the foul unwashed dishes on one 
end of it and the papers and books piled on the other end, in the 
room over across the railroad tracks, and he had talked and I had 
heard the capital letters in his voice. He had said, “God is Fullness 
of Being.” And I had said, “YouVe got the wrong end of the stick. 
For Life is Motion. For—” 

(For Life is Motion toward Knowledge. If God is Complete 
Knowledge then He is Complete Non-Motion, which is Non-Life, 
which is Death. Therefore, if there is such a God of Fullness of Be- 
ing, we would worship Death, the Father. That was what I said to 
the old man, who had looked at me across the papers and fouled 
dishes, and his red-streaked eyes had blinked above the metal- 
rimmed spectacles, which had hung down on the end of his nose. 
He had shaken his head and a flake or two of dandruff had sifted 
down from the sparse white hair ends which fringed the skull 
within which the words had been taking shape from the electric 
twitches in the tangled and spongy and blood-soaked darkness. He 
had said then, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” And I had 
said, “You've got the wrong end of the stick.” 

(For Life is a fire burning along a piece of string—or is it a fuse 
to a powder keg which we call God?— and the string is what we 
don't know, our Ignorance, and the trail of ash, which, if a gust of 
i\;ind does not come, keeps the structure of the string, is History, 
man's Knowledge, but it is dead, and when the fire has burned up 
all the string, then man's Knowledge will be equal to God's Knowl- 
edge and tliere won't be any fire, which is Life. Or if the string 
leads to a powder keg, then there will be a terrific blast of fire, and 

160 



even the trail of ash will be blown completely away. So I had said 
to the old man. 

(But he had replied, ^‘You think in Finite terms.” And I had said, 
*l’m not thinking at all, I'm just drawing a picture.” He had said, 
“Hal” The way I remembered he had done a long time back when 
he played chess with Judge Irwin in the long room in the white 
house looking toward the sea. I had said, “I’ll draw you another 
picture. It is a picture of a man trying to paint a picture of a sunset. 
But before he can dip his brush the color always changes and the 
shape. Let us give a name to the picture which he is trying to paint: 
Knowledge. Therefore if the object which a man looks at changes 
constantly so that Knowledge of it is constantly untrue and is there- 
fore Non-Knowledge, then Eternal Motion is possible. And Eternal 
Life. Therefore we can believe in Eternal Life only if we deny God, 
Who is Complete Knowledge.” 

{The old man had said, “I will pray for your soul.”) 

But even if I didn’t believe in the old man’s God, that morning 
as I stood at the window of the Capitol and looked down on the 
aowd, I felt like God, because I had the knowledge of what was to 
come. I felt like God brooding on History, for as I stood there I 
could see a little chunk of History right there in front. There were 
the bronze statues on their pedestals, on the lawn, in frock coats, 
with the lig; t hand inserted under the coat, just over the heart, in 
military uniforms with a hand on the sword hilt, even one in buck- 
skin with the right hand grasping the barrel of a grounded long 
rifle. They were already History, and the grass around their pedes- 
tals was shaved close and the flowers were planted in stars and 
circles and crescents. Then over beyond the statues, there were the 
people who weren't History yet. Not quite. But to me they looked 
like History, because I knew the end of the event of which they 
were a part. Or thought I knew the end. 

I knew, too, how the newspapers would regard that crowd of peo- 
ple, as soon as they knew the end of the event. They would regard 
that crowd as cause. “A shameful display of cowardice on the part 
of the Legislature . . . allow themselves to be intimidated by . . . 
deplorable lack of leadership . . You could look at the crowd 
out there and hear that undertone in its cry, hoarse like surf, and 
think that the crowd there could cause the event. But no, it could 
be said, Willie Stark caused the event by corrupting and blackmail- 
ing the Legislature. But no, in turn it could be replied that Willie 
Stark merely gave the Legislature the opportunity to behave in the 
way appropriate to its nature and that MacMurfee, who sponsored 
the election of those men, thinking to use their fear and greed for 

161 



ms own ends, was truly responsible. But no, to that it could be re- 
plied that the responsibility belonged, after all, to that crowd of 
people, indirectly in so far as it had allowed MacMurfee to elect 
such men, and directly in so far as it had, despite MacMurfee, 
elected Y/illie Stark. But why had they elected Willie Stark? Be- 
cause of a complex of forces which had made them what they were, 
or because Willie Stark could lean toward them with bulging eyes 
and right arm raised to Heaven? 

One thing was certain: The sound of that chant hoarsely rising 
and falling was to be the cause of nothing, nothing at all. I stood 
in the window of the Capitol and hugged that knowledge like a 
precious and thorny secret, and did not think anything. 

I watched the fat man get out of the black limousine and mount 
the bandstand. I saw the crowd shift and curdle and thin and dis- 
solve. 1 looked across beyond the now lonely and occupationless 
policemen, beyond the statues— frock coats, uniforms, buckskin— to 
the great lawn, which was empty and bright in the spring sunshine. 
I spewed out the last smoke from my cigarette and flicked the butt 
out the open window and watched it spin over and over to the 
stone steps far below. 

Willie Stark was to stand on those steps at eight o'clock that 
night, in a flood of light, looking small at the top of the great steps 
with the mountainous heave of the building behind him. 

That night the people pressed up to the very steps, Hlling all the 
shadow beyond the sharply defined area of light. (Lighting appara- 
tus had been mounted on the pedestals of two of the statues, one 
buckskin, one frock coat.) They called and chanted, '‘Willie— Willie 
—Willie," pressing at the cordon of police at the foot of the steps. 
Then, after a while, out of the tall doorway of the Capitol, he ap- 
peared. Then, as he stood there, blinking in the light, the words of 
the chant disappeared, and there was a moment of stillness, and 
then there was only the roar. It seemed a long time before he lifted 
his hand to stop it. Then the roar seemed to die away, slowly, un- 
der the downward pressure of his hand. 

I stood down in the crowd with Adam Stanton and Anne Stanton 
and watched him come out on the steps of the Capitol. When it 
was over— when he had said what he had to say to the crowd and 
had gone back inside leaving the new, unchecked roar of voices 
behind him— I told Anne and Adam good night and went to meet 
the Boss. 

I rode with him back to the Mansion. He hadn't said a word 
when I joined him at the car. Sugar-Boy worked through the back 

162 



streets, while behind us we could still hear the roaring and shouting 
and the protracted blatting of automobile horns. Then Sugar-Boy 
shook himself free into a quiet little street where the houses sat 
back from the pavement, lights on inside them now and people in 
the lighted rooms, and where the budding boughs interlaced above 
us. At the corners where the street lamps were you could catch the 
hint of actual green on the boughs. 

Sugar-Boy drove up to the rear entrance of the Mansion. The 
Boss got out and went into the door. I followed him. He walked 
down the back hall, where we met nobody, and then into the big 
hall. He paced right across the hall, under the chandeliers and mir* 
rors, past the sweep of the stairway, looked into the drawing room, 
crossed the hall again to look into the back sitting room, then again 
to look into the library. I caught on, and quit following him. I just 
stood in the middle of the big hall and waited. He hadn’t said he 
wanted me, but he hadn’t said he didn’t. In fact, he hadn’t said any- 
thing. Not a word. 

When he turned from the library into the hall again, a white- 
coated Negro boy came out of the dining room. ‘Toy,” the Boss 
asked, “you seen Mrs. Stark?” 

“Yassuh.” 

“Where, dammit?” the Boss snapped. “You think I’m asking for 
my health?” 

“Naw, suh, I didn’t think nuthin, I—” 

“Where?” the Boss demanded in a tone to set the chandelier tin- 
gling. 

After the first paralysis, the lips began to work in the black face. 
In the beginning without effect. Then a sound was detectable. “Up- 
stairs— she done gone upstairs— I redtin she done gone to bed— 
she—” 

The Boss had headed up the stairs. 

He came back almost immediately, walked past me without a 
word, and back to the library. I trailed along. He flung himself 
down on the big leather couch, heaved his feet ofiE the floor to the 
leather, and said, “Shut the God-damned door.” 

I shut the door, and he leaned back on the cushions, at about 
a thirty-degree angle from horizontal, and glumly studied his 
knuckles. “You would have thought she might wait up for me to- 
night,” he said finally, still studying the knuckles. Then, looking at 
me, “She’s gone to bed. Gone to bed and locked her door. Said she 
had a headache. I go upstairs and there is Tom sitting in the room 
across from her room doing his schoolwork. Before I lay hand to 
the knob of her door, he comes out and says, ‘She don’t want to be 

163 



bothered.* Like I was a delivery boy. *I*m not going to bother her/ 
I said to him, just going to tell her what happened.* He looked 
at me and said, ‘She*s got a headache, and she don’t want to be 
bothered.* ’* He hesitated, looked at the knuckles again, then back 
to me, and said with a hint of defensiveness in his tone, *‘A11 1 was 
going to do was tell her how it came out tonight.** 

“She wanted you to throw Byram to the wolves,** I said. “Did she 
want you to throw yourself to the wolves?*' 

“I don’t know what the hell she wants/* he said. “I don't know 
what the hell any of 'em want. A man can’t tell. But you can tell 
this, if any man tried to run things the way they want him to half 
the time, he*d end up sleeping on the bare ground. And how would 
she like that?** 

“I imagine Lucy could take it/* I said. 

“Lucy—** he said, and looked sort of surprised, as though I had 
introduced a new topic of conversation. Then I recollected that 
Lucy's name hadn't been mentioned. Sure, he had been talking 
about Lucy Stark, he knew that and I knew that. But as soon as the 
name Lucy was mentioned, to take the place of that she, somehow 
it was different. It was as though she had walked into the room, 
and looked at us. 

*Xucy— *' he repeated. Then, “All right— Lucy. She could take it 
Lucy could sleep on the bare ground and eat red beans, but it 
wouldn't change the world a damned bit But can Lucy understand 
that? No, Lucy cannot" He was, apparently, taking a relish in 
using the name now, in saying Lu^cy instead of she, as though he 
proved something about something, or about her, or about himself, 
by saying it, by being able to say it “Lucy," he was saying, “she 
could sleep on the bare ground. And that's exactly what she's going 
to raise Tom to do, too, if she has her way. She'd have him so the 
six-year kids will be plugging him with nigger-shooters, and then 
not bothering to run. He's a good stout boy— plays a good game of 
football, bet he makes the team when he gets to college— but she's 
going to ruin him. Make him a sissy. Looks like I say a word to the 
boy and you can just see her face freeze. I called up here tonight to 
get Tom to come down and see the crowd. Was going to send Sugar- 
Boy to get him because I wasn't going to have time to get home. 
But would she let him go? No, sir. Said he had to stay home and 
study. Study," he said. Then, “Didn't want him down there, that 
was it. Me and the crowd.” 

“Take it easy,” I said. “That's the way all women treat their kids. 
Besides, you got to be a big-shot by hitting your books.** 

“He's smart, smart enou^ without being a sissy,” he said. “He 

164 



makes good grades in school, and, by God, he better. Sure, I want 
him to study. And he better, but what I don't get is— ' 

There was a racket out in the hall, voices, then a knock at the 
door. 

'‘See who it is," the Boss said. 

I opened the door and in stormed the familiar faces, somewhat 
flushed. Tiny Duffy's in the lead. They ringed round the Boss and 
wheezed and shoved and chortled. “‘We fixed 'emi— We damned 
well fixed *eml— You're telling it, we stopped that clocki— It’ll be a 
long time till next timel" While the Boss lay back on the cushions 
at his thirty-degree angle, with his feet propped on the leather, and 
his eyes flickering around from face to face, under the half-lowered 
lids, you got the notion he was spying through a peephole. He 
hadn't said a word. 

"Champa^e," one of the boys was saying, *‘real champagne! A 
case and it is honest-to-God stuff. French, from France. Out in the 
kitchen, and Sambo is icing up. Boss, it's a celebration!" 

The Boss didn't say anything. 

"Celebrate, it's a celebration, ain't you gonna celebrate. Boss?" 

"Duffy," the Boss said, not loud, "if you aren't too dinnk you can 
see I don't want this assing around in here. Take your rabble over 
to the other side of the house and stay out from under foot." Then 
in the silence of his pause his eyes flickered over the faces again, to 
come back to Duffy. To whom he said, 'Tou think you grasp the 
idea?" 

Tiny Duffy did grasp the idea. But the others grasped it, too, and 
I thought that I detected a slight competition among the brothers 
of the lodge to be among the first out. 

The Boss regarded the fine paneling of the closed door for a 
couple of minutes. Then he said, "You know what Lincoln said?'^ 

"What?" I asked. 

"He said a house divided against itself cannot stand. Well, he 
was wrong.” 

‘Teah?" 

"Yeah," the Boss said, "for this government is sure half slave and 
half son-of-a-bitch, and it is standing.'* 

"Which is which?” I asked. 

"Slaves down at the Legislature, and the sons-of-bitches up here,” 
he said. And added, "Only sometimes they overlap.” 

But Lucy Stark did not leave the Boss after the settlement of the 
impeachment trouble. Nor even after the next election, when the 
Boss came in for a second term in 1934. (A Governor can succeed 

165 



himself in our state, and the Boss succeeded himself with a venge- 
ance. There never had been a vote like it.) I suppose Tom was the 
reason she hung on. When she did leave him, there wasn't any 
noise. Health. She went to Florida for a long pull. When she got 
back, she stayed out of town at a little place her sister had, a poul- 
try farm and hatchery just out of town. Tom used to spend a lot 
of his time out with her, but I imagined that by that time she 
figured he wasn’t Mamma’s Boy any more. By that time he was a 
strapping fellow, cocky and fast on his feet, a natural-born quarter- 
back, and he had discovered that something besides pasteurized 
milk came in bottles and that approximately half the human race 
belonged to a sex interestingly different from his own. Lucy prob- 
ably figured that she could do something to hold Tom down, and 
so there wasn’t any absolute break with Willie. Now and then, but 
not often, she would appear in public with him. For instance, on 
that trip up to Mason City— the time the Boss and I made the mid- 
night visit on Judge Irwin— Lucy came along. That was in 1936, 
and by that time Lucy had been staying out at her sister's poultry 
farm for going on a year. 

The Boss himself used to go out to the poultry farm occasionally, 
io^ keep up appearances. Two or three times the papers— the ad- 
ministration papers, that is-ran photographs of him standing with 
his wife and kid in front of a hen yard or incubator house. The 
hens didn’t do any harm, either. They gave a nice, homey atmos- 
phere. They inspired confidence* 



Chapter Four 


THAT night when the Boss and I called on Judge Irwin in thw 
middle of the night and when, burning the road back to Mason 
City in the dark, the car hurtled between the black fields, he said to 
me, “There is always something/' 

And I said, “Maybe not on the Judge.” 

And he said, “Man is conceived in sin and bom in corruption 
and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the 
shroud. There is always something,” 

And he told me to dig it out, dig it up, the dead cat with patches 
of fur still clinging to the tight, swollen, dove-gray hide. It was the 
proper job for me, for, as I have said, I was once a student of his- 
tory. A student of history does not care what he digs out of the ash 
pile, the midden, the sublunary dung heap, which is the human 
past. He doesn't care whether it is the dead pussy or the Kohinoor 
diamond. So it was a proper assignment for me, an excursion into 
the past. 

It was to be my second excursion into the past, more interesting 
and sensational than the first, and much more successful. In fact, 
this second excursion into the past was to be perfectly successful. 
But the first one had not been successful. It had not been success- 
ful because in the midst of the process I tried to discover the truth 
and not the facts. Then, when the truth was not to be discovered, 
or discovered could not be understood by me, I could not bear to 
live with the cold-eyed reproach of the facts. So I walked out of a 
room, the room where the facts lived in a big box of three-by-five- 
inch note cards, and kept on walking until I walked into my second 
job of historical research, the job which should be known as the 
‘‘Case of the Upright Judge.” 

But I must tell about the first excursion into the enchantments of 
the past. Not that the first excursion has anything directly to do 
with the story of Willie Stark, but it has a great deal to do with the 

167 



story of Jack Burden, and the story of Willie Stark and the story of 
Jack Burden are, in one sense, one story. 

Long ago Jack Burden was a graduate student, working for his 
Ph.D. in American History, in the State University of his native 
state. This Jack Burden (of whom the present Jack Burden, Me, is 
a legal, biological, and perhaps even metaphysical continuator) 
lived in a slatternly apartment with two other graduate students, 
one industrious, stupid, unlucky, and alcoholic and the other idle, 
intelligent, lucky, and alcoholic. At least, they were alcoholic for a 
period after the first of the month, when they received the miser- 
able check paid them by the University for their miserable work as 
assistant teachers. The industry and ill luck of one canceled out 
against the idleness and luck of the other and they both amounted 
to the same thing, and they drank what they could get when they 
could get it. They drank because they didn't really have the 
slightest interest in what they were doing now, and didn't have the 
slightest hope for the future. I hey could not even bear the thought 
of pushing on to finish their degrees, for that would mean leaving 
the University (leaving the first-of-the-month drunks, tlie yammer 
about '"work” and the "ideas” in smoke-blind rooms, the girls who 
staggered slightly and giggled indiscreetly on the dark stairs leading 
to the apartment) to go to some normal school on a ’sun-baked 
crossroads or a junior college long on Jesus and short on funds, to 
go to face the stark reality of drudgery and dry rot and prying eyes 
and the slow withering of the green wisp of dream which had, like 
some window plant in an invalid's room, grown out of a bottle. 
Only the botde hadn’t had water in it. It had had something which 
looked like water, smelled like kerosene, and tasted like carbolic 
acid; one-run corn whisky. 

Jack Burden lived with them, in the slatternly apartment among 
the unwashed dishes in the sink and on the table, the odor of stale 
tobacco smoke, the dirty shirts and underwear piled in corners. He 
even took a relish in the squalor, in the privilege of letting a last 
trust of buttered toast fall to the floor to be undisturbed until the 
random heel should grind it into the mud-colored carpet, in the 
spectacle of the fat roach moving across the cracked linoleum of the 
bathroom floor while he steamed in the tub. Once he had brought 
his mother to the apartment for tea, and she had sat on the edge of 
the overstuffed chair, holding a cracked cup and talking with a 
brittle and calculated charm out of a face which was obviously 
being held in shape by a profound exercise of will. She saw a roach 
venture out from the kitchen door. She saw one of Jack Burden’s 
friends crush an ant on the inner lip of the sugar bowl and flick 

168 



the carcass from his finger. The nail of the finger itself was not 
very clean. But she kept right on delivering the charm, out of the 
rigid face. He had to say that for her. 

But afterward, as they walked down the street, she had said, 
•‘Why do you live like that?’* 

“It’s what I’m built for, I reckon,” Jack Burden said. 

“With those people,” she said. 

“They’re all right,” he said, and wondered if they were, and 
wondered if he was. 

His mother didn’t say anything for a minute, making a sharp, 
bright clicking on the pavement with* her heels as she walked along, 
holding her small shoulders trimly back, carrying her famished- 
cheeked, blue-eyed, absolutely innocent face slightly lifted to the 
pulsing sunset world of April like a very expensive present the 
world ought to be glad even to have a look at. 

Walking along beside him, she said meditatively, “That dark- 
haired one—if he’d get cleaned up— he wouldn’t be bad looking.” 

“That’s what a lot of other women think,” Jack Burden said, and 
suddenly felt a nauseated hatred of the dark-haired one, the one 
who had killed the ant on the sugar bowl, who had the dirty nails. 
But he had to go on, something in him made him go on, “Yes, and 
a lot of them don’t even care about cleaning him up. They’ll take 
him like he is. He’s the great lover of the apartment. He put the 
sag in the springs of that divan we got,” 

“Don’t be vulgar,” she said, because she definitely did not like 
what is known as vulgarity in conversation. 

“It’s the truth,” he said. 

She didn’t answer, and her heels did the bright clicking. Then 
she said, “If he’d throw those awful clothes away— and get some- 
thing decent.” 

“Yeah,” Jack Burden said, “on his seventy-five dollars a month.’* 

She looked at him now, down at his clothes. “Yours are pretty 
awful, too,” she said. 

“Are they?” Jack Burden demanded. 

“I’ll send you money for some decent clothes,” she said. 

A few days later the check came and a note telling him to get a 
“couple of decent suits and accessories.” The check was for two 
hundred and fifty dollars. He did not even buy a necktie. But he 
and the two other men in the apartment had a wonderful blowout, 
which lasted for five days, and as a result of which the industrious 
and unlucky one lost his job and the idle and lucky one got too 
sociable, and, despite his luck, contracted a social disease. But noth- 
ing happened to Jack Burden, for nothing ever happened to Jack 

169 



iiurden, who was invulnerable. Perhaps that was the curse of Jack 
Burden: he was invulnerable. 

So Jack Burden lived in the slatternly apartment with the two 
other graduate students, for even after being fired the^ unlucky, in- 
dustrious one still lived in the apartment. He simply stopped pay- 
ing anything but he stayed. He borrowed money for cigarettes. He 
sullenly ate the food the others brought in and cooked. He lay 
around during the day, for there was ao reason to be industrious 
any more, ever again. Once at night Jack Burden woke up and’ 
thought he heard tlie sound of sobs fr>m the living room, where the 
unlucky, industrious one slept on a wall bed. Then one day the un- 
lucky, industrious one was not there. They never did know where 
he had gone, and they never heard from him again. 

But before that they lived in the apartment, in an atmosphere of 
brotherhood and mutual understanding. They had this in com- 
mon: they were all hiding. The difference was in what they were 
hiding from. The two others were hiding from the future, from the 
day when they would get degrees and leave the University. Jack 
Burden, however, was hiding from the present. The other two took 
refuge in the present. Jack Burden took refuge in the past. The 
other two sat in the living room and argued and drank or played 
cards or read, but Jack Burden was sitting, as like as not, back in 
his bedroom before a little pine table, with the notes and papers 
and books before him, scarcely hearing the voices. He might come 
out and take a drink or take a hand of cards or argue or do any of 
the other things they did, but what was real was back in that bed-^^ 
room on the pine table. 

What was back in the bedroom on the pine table? 

A large packet of letters, eight tattered, black-bound account 
books tied together with faded red tape, a photogi*aph, about five 
by eight inches, m runted on cardboard and stained in its lower half 
by water, and a plain gold ring, man-sized, with some engraving in 
it, on a loop of string. The past. Or that part of the past which had 
gone by the name of Cass Mastern. 

Cass Mastern was one of the two maternal uncles of Ellis Burden, 
the Scholarly Attorney, a brother of his mother, Lavinia Mastern. 
The other uncle was named Gilbert Mastern, who died in 1914, at 
the age of ninety-four or -five, rich, a builder of railroads, a sitter on 
boards of directors, and left the packet of letters, the black account 
books, and the photograph, and a great deal of money to a grand- 
son (and not a penny to Jack Burden). Some ten years later the heir 
of Gilbert Mastern, recollecting that Jack Burden, with whom he^ 
had no personal acquaintance, w^ a student of history, or some* 

170 



thing o£ the sort, sent him the packet of letters, the account books, 
and the photograph, asking if he. Jack Burden, thought that the 
enclosures were of any ‘'financial interest” since he, the heir, had 
heard that libraries sometimes would pay a “fair sum for old papers 
and antebellum relics and keepsakes.” Jack Burden replied that 
since Cass Mastern had been of no historical importance as an in- 
dividual, it was doubtful that any Kbrary would pay more than a 
few dollars, if anything, for the material, and asked for instructions 
as to the disposition of the parcel. The heir replied that under the 
circumstances Jack Burden might keep the things for “sentimental 
reasons.” 

So Jack Burden made the acquaintance of Cass Mastern, who had 
died in 1864 at a military hospital in Atlanta, who had been only 
a heard but forgotten name to him, and who was the pair of dark, 
wide>set, deep eyes which burned out of the photograph, through 
the dinginess and dust and across more than fifty years. The eyes, 
which were Cass Mastern, stared out of a long, bony face, but a 
young face with full lips above a rather thin, curly black bearcL 
The lips did not seem to belong to that bony face and the burning 
eyes. 

The young man in the picture, standing, visible from the thighs 
up, wore a loose-fitting, shapeless jacket, too large in the collar, 
short in the sleeves to show strong wrists and bony hands dasped 
at the waist. The thick dark hair, combed sweepingly back from the 
high brow, came down long and square-cut, after the fashion of 
lime, place, and class, almost to brush the collar of the coarse, hand- 
me-down-looking jacket, which was the jacket of an infantryman 
in the Confederate Army, 

But everything in the picture in contrast with the dark, burning 
eyes, seemed accidental. That jacket, however, was not accidental. 
It was worn as the result of calculation and anguish, in pride and 
self-humiliation, in the conviction that it would be worn in death. 
But the death was not to be that quick and easy. It was to come 
slow and hard, in a stinking hospitd in Atlanta. The last letter in 
the packet was not in Cass Mastern*s hand. Lying in the hospital 
with his rotting wound, he dictated his farewell letter to his 
brother, Gilbert Mastern. The letter, and the last of the account 
books in which Cass Mastern's journal was kept, were eventually 
sent back home to Mississippi, and Cass Mastern was buried some- 
where in Atlanta, nobody had ever known where. 

It was, in a sense, proper that Cass Mastern— in the gray jacket, 
sweat-stiffened, and prickly like a hair shirt, which it was for him at 
the same time that it was the insignia of a begrudged glory-^ould 

171 



have gone back to Georgia to rot slowly to death. For he had been 
bora in Georgia, he and Gilbert Mastera and Lavinia Mastern, in 
the red hills up toward Tennessee. ‘1 was born,” the first page of 
the first volume of the journal said, “in a log cabin in north 
Georgia, in circumstances of poverty, and if in later years I have 
lai’n soft and have supped from silver, may the Lord not let die in 
my heart the knowledge of frost and of coarse diet. For all men 
come naked into the world, and in prosperity ‘man is prone to evil 
as the sparks fly upward.* ** The lines were written when Cass was 
a student at Transylvania College, up in Kentucky, after what he 
called his '“darkness and trouble** had given place to the peace of 
God. For the journal began with an account of the “darkness and 
troubIe*'~which was a perfectly real trouble, with a dead man and 
a live woman and long nail scratches down Cass Mastern*s bony 
face.“I write this down,** he said in the journal, “with what truth* 
fulness a sinner may attain unto, that if ever pride is in me, of flesh 
or spirit, I can peruse these pages and know with shame what evil 
has been in me, and may be in me, for who knows what breeze may 
blow upon the charred log and fan up flame again?** 

The impulse to write the journal sprang from the “darkness and 
trouble,** but Cass Mastern apparently had a systematic mind, and 
so he went back to the beginning, to the log cabin in the red hills 
of Georgia. It was the older brother, Gilbert, some fifteen year? 
older than Cass, who lifted the family from the log cabin. Gilbert, 
who had run away from home when a boy and gone west to Missis- 
sippi, was well on the way to being “a cotton snob** by the time he 
was in his thirties, that is, by 1850. The penniless and no doubt 
hungry boy walking barefoot onto the black soil of Mississippi 
was to become, ten or twelve years later, the master sitting the 
spirited roan stallion (its name was Powhatan— that from the 
journal) in front of the white veranda. How did Gilbert make his 
first dollar? Did he cut the throat of a traveler in the canebrake? 
Did he black boots an an inn? It is not recorded. But he made his 
fortune, and sat on the white veranda and voted Whig. After the 
war when the white veranda was a pile of ashes and the fortune was 
gone, it was not surprising that Gilbert, who had made one fortune 
with his bare hands, out of the very air, could now, with all his ex- 
perience and cunning and hardness (the hardness harder now for 
the four years of riding and short rations and disappointment), 
snatch another one, much greater than the first If in later years he 
ever remembered his brother Cass and took out the last letter, the 
tme dictated in the hospital in Atlanta, he must have mused over 
it with a tolerant irony. For it said: “Remember me, but without 

172 



grief. If one of ns is lucky, it is 1. 1 shall have rest and I hope in the 
mercy of the Everlasting and in His blessed election. But you, my 
dear brother, are condemned to eat bread in bitterness and build 
on the place where the charred embers and ashes are and to make 
bricks without straw and to suffer in the ruin and guilt of our dear 
Land and in the common guilt of man. In the next bed to me there 
is a young man from Ohio. He is dying. His moans and curses and 
prayers are not different from any others to be heard in this taber- 
nacle of pain. He marched hither in his guilt as I in mine. And in 
the guilt of his Land. May a common Salvation lift us both from 
the dust. And, dear brother, I pray God to give you strength for 
what is to come.” Gilbert must have smiled, looking back, for he 
had eaten little bread in bitterness. He had had his own kind of 
strength. By 1870 he was again well off. By 1875 or '76 he was rich. 
By 1880 he had a fortune, was living in New York, was a name, a 
thick, burly man, slow of movement, with a head like a block of 
bare granite. He had lived out of one world into another. P^haps 
he was even more at home in the new than in the old. Or perhaps 
the Gilbert Masterns are always at home in any world. As Ae Cass 
Masterns are never at home in any world. 

But to return: Jack Burden came into possession of the papers 
from the grandson of Gilbert Mastem. When the time came for him 
to select a subject for his dissertation for his Ph.D., his professor 
suggested that he edit the journal and letters of Cass Mastern, and 
write a biographical essay, a social study based on those and other 
materials. So Jack Burden began his first journey into the past. 

It seemed easy at first. It was easy to reconstruct the life of the 
log cabin in the red hills. There were the first letters back from 
Gilbert after he had begun his rise (Jack Burden managed to get 
possession of the other Gilbert Mastem papers of the period before 
die Civil War), There was the known pattern of that life, gradually 
altered toward comfort as Gilbert's affluence was felt at that dis- 
tance. Then, in one season, the mother and father died, and Gilbert 
returned to burst, no doubt, upon Cass and Lavinia as an unbe- 
lieveable vision, a splendid impostor in black broadcloth, varnish^ 
boots, white linen, heavy gold ring. He put Lavinia in a school in 
Adanta, bought her trunks of dresses, and kissed her good-bye. 
(“Could you not have taken me with you, dear Brother Gilbert? I 
would have been ever so dutiful and affectionate a sister,” so she 
wrote to him in the copybook hand, in brown ink, in a language 
not her own, a language of schoolroom propriety. “May I not come 
to you now? Is there no little task which I—” But Gilbert had other 
plans. When the time came for her to appear in his house she would 

173 



be ready.) But he tcwDk Cass with him, a hobbledehoy now wearing 
black and mounted on a blooded mare. 

At the end of three years Cass was not a hobbledehoy. He had 
spent three years of monastic rigor at Valhalla, Gilbert’s house, un- 
der the tuition of a Mr. Lawson and of Gilbert himself. From Gil- 
bert he learned the routine of plantation management. From Mr. 
Lawson, a tubercular and vague young man from Princeton, New 
Jersey, he learned some geometry, some Latin, and a great deal of 
Presbyterian theology. He liked the books, and once Gilbert (so the 
journal said) stood in the doorway and watched him bent over the 
table and then said, **At least you may be good for that/^ 

But he was good for more than that. When Gilbert gave him a 
small plantation, he managed it for two years with such astuteness 
(and such luck, for both season and market conspired in his behalf) 
that at the end of the time he could repay Gilbert a substantial 
part of the purchase price. Then he went, or was sent, to Transyl- 
vania. It was Gilbert’s idea. He came into the house on Cass’s plan- 
tation one night to find Cass at his books. He walked across the 
room to the table where the books lay, by which Cass now stood. 
Gilbert stretched out his arm and tapped the open book with his 
riding crop. “You might make something out of that,” he said. The 
journal reported that, but it did not report what book it was that 
Gilbert’s riding aop tapped. It is not important what book it was. 
Or perhaps it is important, for something in our mind, in our im- 
agination, wants to know that fact. 'We see the red, square, strong 
hand (“my brother is strong-made and florid”) protruding from the 
white cuff, grasping the crop which in that grasp looks fragile like 
a twig. We see the flick of the little leather loop on the open page, 
a flick brisk, not quite contemptuous, but we cannot make out the 
page. 

In any case, it probably was not a book on theology, for it seems 
doubtful tliat Gilbert, in such a case, would have used the phrase 
“make something out of that.” It might have been a page of the 
Latin poets, however, for Gilbert would have discovered that, in 
small doses, they went well with politics or the law. So Transyl- 
vania College it was to be— suggested, it developed, by Gilbert’s 
neighbor and friend, Mr. Davis, Mr. Jefferson Davis, who had once 
been a student there. Mr. Davis had studied Greek. 

At Transylvania, in Lexington, Cass discovered pleasure. “I dis- 
covered that there is an education for vice as well as for virtue, and 
1 learned what was to be learned from the gaming table, the bottle, 
and the racecourse and from the illicit sweetness of the flesh.” He 

174 



fiad come out o£ the poverty of the cabin and the monastic regime 
of Valhalla and the responsibilities of his own little plantation; 
and he was tall and strong, and, to judge from the photograph, well 
favored, with the burning dark eyes. It was no wonder that he “dis- 
covered pleasure' —or that pleasure discovered him. For, though the 
journal does not say so, in the events leading up to the “darkness 
and trouble,” Cass seems to have been, in the beginning at least, 
the pursued rather than the pursuer. 

The pursuer is referred to in the journal as “she” and “her.” But 
Jack Burden learned the name. “She” was Annabelle Trice, Mrs. 
Duncan TTrice, and Mr. Duncan Trice was a prosperous young 
banker of Lexington, Kentucky, who was an intimate of Cass Mas- 
tern and apparently one of those who led him into the paths of 
pleasure. Jack Burdpn learned the name by going back to the files 
of the Lexington newspapers for the middle 1850’s to locate the 
story of a death. It was the death of Mr. Duncan Trice. In the news- 
paper it was reported as an accident. Duncan Trice had shot him- 
self by accident, the newspaper said, while cleaning a pair of pistols^ 
One of the pistols, already cleaned, lay on the couch where he had 
been sitting, in his library, at the time of the accident. The other, 
the lethal instrument, had fallen to the floor. Jack Burden had 
known, from the journal, the nature of the case, and so when he 
had located the special circumstances, he had learned the identity 
of “she.” Mr. Trice, the newspaper said, was survived by his widow, 
nee Annabelle Puckett, of Washington, D.C. 

Shortly after Cass had come to Lexington, Annabelle Trice met 
him. Duncan Trice brought him home, for he had received a letter 
from Mr. Davis, recommending the brother of his good friend and 
neighbor, Mr. Gilbert Mastern. (Duncan Trice had come to Lexing- 
ton from soutliern Kentucky, where his own father had been a 
friend of Samuel Davis, the father of Jefferson, when Samuel lived 
at Fairview and bred racers.) So Duncan Trice brought the tall boy 
home, who was no longer a hobbledehoy, and set him on a sofa and 
thrust a glass into his hand and called in his pretty, husky-voiced 
wife, of whom he was so proud, to greet the stranger. “When she 
first entered the room, in which the shades of approaching twilight 
were gathering though the hom: for the candles to be lit had 
scarcely come, I thought that her eyes were black, and the effect was 
most striking, her hair being of such a fairness. I noticed, too, how 
softly she trod and with a gliding motion which, though she was 
perhaps of a little less than moderate stature, gave an impression of 
regal dignity— 


175 



et cvertens rosea cervice refulsit 
Ambrosiaeque comae divinum vertice odorem 
Spiravere, pedes vestis defluxii ad imos^ 

Et vera incessu patuit Dea. 

So the Mantuan said, when Venus appeared and the true goddess 
was revealed by her gait. She came into the room and was the true 
goddess as revealed in her movement, and was, but for Divine Grace 
(if such be granted to a parcel of corruption such as I), my true 
damnation. She gave me her hand and spoke with a tingling huski- 
ness which made me think of rubbing my hand upon a soft deep- 
piled cloth, like velvet, or upon a fur. It would not have been called 
a musical voice such as is generally admired. I know that, but I can 
only set down what effect it worked upon my own organs of hear- 

Cass set down a very conscientious description of every feature 
and proportion, a kind of tortured inventory, as though in the 
midst of the “darkness and trouble,” at the very moment of his 
‘agony and repudiation, he had to take one last backward look even 
at the risk of being turned into the pillar of salt. “Her face was not 
large though a little given to fullness. Her mouth was strong but 
the lips were red and moist and seemed to be slightly parted or 
about to part themselves. The chin was short and firmly moulded. 
Her skin was of a great whiteness, it seemed then before the candles 
were lit, but afterwards I was to see that it had a bloom of color 
upon it. Her hair, which was in a remarkable abundance and of 
great fairness, was drawn back from her face and worn in large 
coils low down to the neck. Her waist was very small and her 
breasts, which seemed naturally high and round and full, were the 
higher for the corsetting. Her dress, of a dark blue silk I remember, 
was cut low to the very downward curve of the shoulders, and in 
the front showed how the breasts were lifted like twin orbs.” 

Cass described her that way. He admitted that her face was not 
beautiful. “Though agreeable in its proportions,” he added. But 
the hair was beautiful, and “of an astonishing softness, upon your 
hand softer and finer than your thought of silk.” So even in that 
moment, in the midst of the “darkness and trouble,” the recollec- 
tion intrudes into the journal of how that abundant, fair hair had 
slipped across his fingers. “But,” he added, “her beauty was her 
eyes,” 

He had remarked how, when she first came in, into the shadowy 
room, her eyes had seemed black. But he had been mistaken, he 
was to discover, and that discovery was the first step toward his un- 

176 



doing. After the greeting (“she greeted me with great simplicity and 
courtesy and bade me again take my seat”), she remarked on how 
dark the room was and how the autumn always came to take one 
unawares. Then she touched a bellpull and a Negro boy entered. 
“She commanded him to bring light and to mend the fire, which 
was sunk to ash, or near so. He came back presently with a seven- 
branched candlestick which he put upon the table back of the 
couch on which I sat. He struck a lucifer but she said, Tet me light 
the candles.* I remember it as if it were only yesterday when I sat on 
that couch. I had turned my head idly to watch her light the can- 
dles. The little table was between us. She leaned over the candles 
and applied the lucifer to the wicks, one after another. She was lean- 
ing over, and I saw how the corset lifted her breasts together, but 
because she was leaning the eyelids shaded her eyes from my sight. 
Then she raised her head a little and looked straight at me over the 
new candle flames, and I saw all at once that her eyes were not black. 
They were blue, but a blue so deep that I can only compare it to 
the color of the night sky in autumn when the weather is clear and 
there is no moon and the stars have just well come out. And I had 
not known how large they were. I remember saying that to myself 
with perfect clearness, *l had not known how large they were,* 
several times, slowly, like a man marvelling. Then I knew that I was 
blushing and I felt my tongue dry like ashes in my mouth and I 
was in the manly state. 

“I can see perfectly clearly the expression on her face even now, 
but I cannot interpret it. Sometimes I have thought of it as having 
a smiling hidden in it, but I cannot be sure. (I am only sure of this: 
that man is never safe and damnation is ever at hand, O God and 
my Redeemer!) I sat there, one hand clenched upon my knee and 
the other holding an empty glass, and I felt that I could not 
breathe. Then she said to her husband, who stood in the room be- 
hind me, *Duncan, do you see that Mr. Mastern is in need of re- 
freshment?* ** 

The year passed. Cass, who was a good deal younger than Duncan 
Trice, and as a matter of fact several years younger than Annabelle 
Trice, became a close companion of Duncan Trice and learned 
much from him, for Duncan Trice was rich, fashionable, clever, and 
high-spirited (“much given to laughter and full-blooded’’). Duncan 
Trice led Cass to the bottle, the gaming table and the racecourse, 
but not to the “illicit sweetness of the flesh.” Duncan Trice was 
-passionately and single-mindedly devoted to his wife, (“When she 
came into a room, his eyes would fix upon her without shame, and 
I have seen her avert her face and blush for the boldness of his 

177 



glance when company was present. But I think that it was done by 
him unawares, his partiality for her was so great.**) No, the other 
young men, members of the Trice circle, led Cass first to the * 'illicit 
sweetness.’* But despite the new interests and gratifications, Cass 
could work at his books. There was even time for that, for he had 
great strength and endurance. 

So the year passed. He had been much in the Trice house, but 
no word beyond the “words of merriment and civility’* had passed 
between him and Annabelle Trice. In June, there was a dancing 
party at the house of some friend of Duncan Trice. Duncan Trice, 
his wife, and Cass happened to stroll at some moment into the gar- 
den and to sit in a little arbor, which was covered with a jasmine 
vine. Duncan Trice returned to the house to get punch for the 
three of them, leaving Annabelle and Cass seated side by side in 
the arbor. Cass commented on the sweetness of the scent of jasmine. 
All at once, she burst out (“her voice low-pitched and with its hus- 
kiness, but in a vehemence which astonished me”), “Yes, yes, it is 
too sweet. It is suffocating. I shall suffocate.” And she laid her right 
hand, with the fingers spread, across the bare swell of her bosom, 
above the pressure of the corset, 

“Thinking her taken by some sudden illness,** Cass recorded in 
the journal, “I asked if she were faint. She said, No, in a very low, 
husky voice. Nevertheless I rose, with the expressed intention of 
getting a glass of water for her. Suddenly she said, quite harshly and 
to my amazement, because of her excellent courtesy, 'Sit down, sit 
down, I don*t want waterl* So somewhat distressed in mind that un- 
wittingly I might have offended, 1 sat down. I looked across the gar- 
den where in the light of the moon several couples promenaded 
down the paths between the low' hedges. I could hear the sound of 
her breathing beside me. It was disturbed and irregular. All at once 
she said, 'How old are you, Mr. Mastern?* I said twenty-two. Then 
she said, 'I am twenty-nine.* I stammered something, in my surprise. 
She laughed as though at my confusion, and said, 'Yes, I am seven 
years older than you, Mr. Mastern. Does that surprise you, Mr. 
Mastern?* I replied in the affirmative. Then she said, 'Seven years 
is a long time. Seven years ago you were a child, Mr. Mastern.’ 
Then she laughed, with a sudden sharpness, but quickly stopped 
herself to add, 'But I wasn’t a child. Not seven years ago, Mr. 
Mastern.* I did not answer her, for there was no thought clear in 
my head. I sat there in confusion, but in the middle of my con- 
fusion I was trying to see what she would have looked like as a 
child. I could call up no image. Then her husband returned from 
the house.*’ 


178 



A few days later Cass went back to Mississippi to devote some 
months to his plantation, and, under the guidance of Gilbert, to 
go once to Jackson, the capital, and once to Vicksburg, It was a 
busy summer. Now Cass could see clearly what Gilbert intended: 
to make him rich and to put him into politics. It was a flattering 
and glittering prospect, and one not beyond reasonable expectation 
for a young man whose brother was Gilbert Mastem. (“My brother 
is a man of great taciturnity and strong mind, and when he speaks, 
though he practices no graces and ingratiations, all men, especially 
those of the sober sort who have responsibility and power, weigh 
his words with respect.”) So the summer passed, under the strong 
hand and cold eye of Gilbert. But toward the end of the season, 
when already Cass was beginning to give thought to his return to 
Transylvania, an envelope came addressed to him from Lexington, 
in an unfamiliar script. When Cass unfolded the single sheet of 
paper a small pressed blossom, or what he discovered to be such, 
slipped out. For a moment he could not think what it was, or why 
it was in his hand. Then he put it to his nostrils. The odor, now 
faint and dusty, was the odor of jasmine. 

The sheet of paper had been folded twice, to make four equal 
sections. In one section, in a dean, strong, not large script, he read: 
“Oh, Cassl*' That was all. 

It was enough. 

One drizzly autumn, afternoon, just after bis return to Lexington, 
Cass called at the Trice house to pay his respects. Duncan Trice was 
not there, having sent word that he had been urgently detained in 
the town and would be home for a late dinner. Of that afternoon, 
Cass wrote: “I found myself in the room alone with her. There were 
shadows, as there had been that afternoon, almost a year before, 
when I first saw her in that room, and when I had thought that her 
eyes were black. She greeted me civilly, and I replied and stepped 
back after having shaken her hand. Then J realized that she was 
looking at me fixedly, as I at her. Suddenly, her lips parted slightly 
and gave a short exhalation, like a sigh or suppressed moan. As of 
one accord, we moved toward each other and embraced. No words 
passed between us as we stood there. We stood there for a long 
time, or so it seemed. I held her body close to me in a strong em- 
brace, but we did not exchange a kiss, which upon recollection has 
since seemed strange. But was it strange? Was it strange that some 
remnant of shame should forbid us to look each other in the face? 
I felt and heard my heart racing within my bosom, with a loose 
feeling as though it were unmoored and were leaping at random 
m a great cavity within me, but at the same time I scarcely accq)ted 

179 



the fact of my situation. I was somehow possessed by incredulity, 
even as to my identity, as I stood there and my nostrils were filled 
with the fragrance of her hair. It was not to be believed that I was 
Cass Mastern, who stood thus in the house of a friend and bene- 
factor. There was no remorse or horror at the turpitude of the act, 
but only the incredulity which I have referred to, (One feels in- 
credulity at the first breaking of a habit, but horror at the viola- 
tion of a principle. Therefore what virtue and hojtior I had known 
in the past had been an accident of habit and not the fruit of will. 
Or can virtue be the fruit of human will? The thought is pride.) 

*'As I have said, we stood there for a long time in a strong em- 
brace, but with her face lowered against my chest, and my own eyes 
staring across the room and out a window into the deepening ob- 
scurity of the evening. When she finally raised her face, I saw that 
she had been silently weeping. Why was she weeping? I have asked 
myself that question. Was it because even on the verge of commit- 
ting an irremediable wrong she could weep at the consequence of 
an act which she felt powerless to avoid? Was it because the man 
who held her was much younger than she and his embrace gave her 
the reproach of youth and seven years? Was it because he had come 
seven years too late and could not come in innocence? It does not 
matter what the cause. If it was the first, then the tears can only 
prove that sentiment is no substitute for obligation, if the second, 
then they only prove that pity of the self is no substitute for wis- 
dom. But she shed the tears and finally lifted her face to mine with 
those tears bright in her large eyes, and even now, though those 
tears were my ruin, I cannot wish them unshed, for they testify to 
the warmth of her heart and prove that whatever her sin (and 
mine) she did not step to it with a gay foot and with the eyes hard 
with lust and fleshly cupidity. 

‘The tears were my ruin, for when she lifted her face to me some 
streak of tenderness was mixed into my feelings, and my heart 
seemed to flood itself into my bosom to fill that great cavity wherein 
it had been leaping. She said, ‘Cass’— the first time she had ever 
addressed me by my Christian name. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Kiss me,’ she 
said very simply, ‘you can do it now.’ So I kissed her. And thereupon 
in the blindness of our mortal blood and in the appetite of our 
hearts we performed the act. There in that very room with the 
servants walking with soft feet somewhere in the house and with 
the door to the room open and with her husband expected, and not 
yet in the room the darkness of evening. But we were secure in our 
very recklessness, as though the lustful heart could give forth a 
doud of darkness in which we were shrouded, even as Venus once 

180 



shrouded Aeneas in a cloud so that he passed unspied among men 
to approach the city of Dido, In such cases as ours the very reckless- 
ness gives security as the strength of the desire seems to give the 
sanction of justice and righteousness. 

‘‘Though she had wept and had seemed to perform the act in a 
sadness and desperation, immediately afterward she spoke cheer- 
fully to me. She stood in the middle of the room pressing her hair 
into place, and I stumblingly ventured some remark about our fu- 
ture, a remark very vague for my being was still confused, but she 
responded, *Oh, let us not think about it now,' as though I had 
broached a subject of no consequence. She promptly summoned a 
servant and asked for lights. They were brought and thereupon I 
inspected her face to find it fresh and unmarked. When her hus- 
band came, she greeted him familiarly and affectionately, and as I 
witnessed it my own heart was wrenched, but not, I must confess, 
with compunction. Rather with a violent jealousy. When he spoke 
to me and took my hand, so great was my disturbance that I was 
sure that my face could not but betray it." 

So began the second phase of the story of Cass Mastem. All that 
year, as before, he was often in the house of Duncan Trice, and as 
before' he was often with him in field sports, gambling, drinking, 
and racegoing. He learned, he says, to “wear his brow unwrinkled," 
to accept the condition of things. As for Annabelle Trice, he says 
that sometimes looking back, he could scarcely persuade himself 
that “she had shed tears." She was, he says, “of a warm nature, reck- 
less and passionate of disposition, hating all mention of the future 
(she would never let me mention times to come), agile, resourceful, 
and cheerful in devising to gratify our appetites, but with a wom- 
anly tenderness such as any man might prize at a sanctified hearth- 
side." She must indeed have been agile and resourceful, for to carry 
on siydi a liaison undetected in that age and place must have been 
a problem. There was a kind of summerhouse at tlie foot of the 
Trice garden, which one could enter unobserved from an alley. 
Some of their meetings occurred there. A half-sister of Annabelle 
Trice, who lived in Lexington, apparently assisted the lovers or 
winked at their relationship, but, it seems, only after some pressure 
by Annabelle, for Cass mentions “a stormy scene." So some of the 
meetings were there. But now and then Duncan Trice had to be 
out of town on business, and on those occasions Cass would be ad- 
mitted, late at night, to the house, even during a period when Anna- 
belle's mother and father were staying there; so he actually lay in 
the very bed belonging to Duncan Trice. 

There were, however, other meetings, unplanned and unpredict- 

181 



able moments snatched when they found themselves left alone to^ 
gether. ‘'Scarce a corner, cranny, or protected nook or angle of my 
friend’s trusting house did we not at one time or another defile, 
and that even in the full and shameless light of day,” Cass wrote in 
the journal, and when Jack Burden, the student of history, went 
to Lexington and went to see the old Trice house he remembered 
the sentence. The town had grown up around the house, and the 
gardens, except for a patch of lawn, were gone. But the house was 
well maintained (some people named Miller lived there and by and 
large respected the place) and Jack Burden was permitted to inspect 
the premises. He wandered about the room where the first meeting 
had taken place and she had raised her eyes to Cass Mastern above 
the newly lighted candles and where, a year later, she had uttered 
the sigh, or suppressed moan, and stepped to his arms; and out into 
the hail, which was finely proportioned and with a graceful stair; 
and into a small, shadowy library; and to a kind of back hall, which 
was a well “protected nook or angle” and had, as a matter of fact, 
furniture adequate to the occasion. Jack Burden stood in the main 
hall, which was cool and dim, with dully glittering floors, and, in 
the silence of the house, recalled that period, some seventy years 
before, of the covert glances, the guarded whispers, the abrupt 
rustling of silk in the silence (the costume of the period certainly 
had not been designed to encourage casual vice), the sharp breath, 
the reckless sighs. Well, all of that had been a long time before, 
and Annabelle Trice and Cass Mas tern were long since deader than 
mackerel, and Mrs. Miller, who came down to give Jack Burden a 
cup of tea (she was flattered by the “historical” interest in her 
house, though she didn’t guess the exact nature of the case), cer- 
tainly was not ”agile” and didn’t look “resourceful” and probably 
had used up all her energy in the Ladies Altar Guild of St. Luke's 
Episcopal Church and in the D.A.R. 

The period of the intrigue, the second phase of the story of Cass 
Mastem, lasted all of one academic year, part of the summer (for 
Cass was compelled to go back to Mississippi for his plantation 
affairs and to attend the wedding of his sister Lavinia, who married 
a well-connected young man named Willis Burden), and well 
through the next winter, when Cass was back in Lexington. Then, 
on March 19, 1854, Duncan Trice died, in his library (which was a 
"protected nook or angle” of his house), with a lead slug nearly the 
size of a man’s thumb in his chest. It was quite obviously an acci- 
dent. 

The widow sat in church, upright and immobile. When she once 
raised her veil to touch at her eyes with a handkerchief. Cass 



Mastern saw that the cheek was “pale as marble but for a single 
flushed spot, like the flush of fever/* But even when the veil was 
lowered he detected the fixed, bright eyes glittering “within that 
artificial shadow." 

Cass Mastern, with five other young men of Lexington, cronies 
and boon companions of the dead man, carried the coffin. “The 
coffin which I carried seemed to have no weight, although my friend 
had been of large frame and had inclined to stoutness. As we pro- 
ceeded with it, I marvelled at the fact of its? lightness, and once the 
fancy flitted into my mind that he was not in the coffin at all, that 
it was empty, and that all the affair was a masquerade or mock show 
carried to ludicrous and blasphemous length, for no purpose, as in 
a dream. Or to deceive me, the fancy came. I was the object of the 
deception, and all the other people were in league and conspiracy 
against me. But when that thought came, I suddenly felt a sense 
of great cunning and a wild exhilaration.. I had been too sharp to 
be caught so. I had penetrated the deception. I had the impulse to 
hurl the coffin to the ground and see its emptiness burst open and 
to laugh in triumph. But I did not, and I saw the coffin sink be- 
neath the level of the earth on which we stood and receive the first 
clods upon it. 

“As soon as the sound of the first clods striking the coffin came 
to me, I felt a great relief, and then a most overmastering desire. I 
looked toward her. She was kneeling at the foot of the grave, with 
what thoughts I could not know. Her head was inclined slightly and 
the veil was over her face. The bright sun poured over her black-clad 
figure. I could not take my eyes from the sight. The posture seemed 
to accentuate the charms of her person and to suggest to my in- 
flamed senses the suppleness of her members. Even the funereal tint 
of her costume seemed to add to the provocation. The sunshine was 
hot upon my neck and could be felt through the stuff of my coat 
upon my shoulders. It was preternaturally bright so that I was 
blinded by it and my eyes were blinded and my senses swam. But 
all the while I could hear, as from a great distance, the scraping 
of the spades upon the piled earth and the muffled sound of earth 
falling into the excavation.** 

That evening Cass went to the summerhouse in the garden. It 
was not by appointment, simply on impulse. He waited there a 
long time, but she finally appeared, dressed in black “which was 
scarce darker than the night." He did not speak, or make any sign 
as she approached, “gliding like a shadow among shadows," but re- 
mained standing where he had been, in the deepest obscurity of the 
summerhouse. Even when she entered, he did not betray his pres* 

183 



ence. "I can not be certain that any premeditation was in my silence* 
It was prompted by an overpowering impulse which gripped me 
and sealed my throat and froze my limbs. Before that moment, and 
afterwards, I knew that it is dishonorable to spy upon another, but 
at the moment no such considerations presented themselves. I had 
to keep my eyes fixed upon her as she stood there thinking herself 
alone in the darkness of the structure. I had the fancy that since she 
thought herself alone I might penetrate into her being, that I might 
learn what change, what effect, had been wrought by the death of 
her husband. The passion which had seized me to the very extent of 
paroxysm that afternoon at the brink of my friend’s grave was gone. 
I was perfecdy cold now. But I had to know, to try to know. It was 
as though I might know myself by knowing her. (It is human defect 
—to try to know oneself by the self of another. One can only know 
oneself in God and in His great eye.) 

‘‘She entered the summerhouse and sank upon one of the benches, 
not more than a few feet froni my own location. For a long time I 
stood there, peering at her. She sat perfectly upright and rigid. At 
last I whispered her name, as low as might be. If she heard it, she 
gave no sign. So I repeated her name, in the same fashion, and 
again. Upon the third utterance, she whispered, ‘Yes,* but she did 
not change her posture or turn her head. Then I spoke more loudly, 
again uttering her name, and instantly, with a motion of wild alarm 
she rose, with a strangled cry and her hands lifted toward her face. 
She reeled, and it seemed that she would collapse to the floor, but 
she gained control of herself and stood there staring ^t me. Stam* 
meringly, I made my apology, saying that I had not wanted to 
startle her, that I had understood her to answer yes to my whisper 
before I spoke, and I asked her, ‘Did you not answer to my whis- 
per?* 

“She replied that she had. 

“ ‘Then why were you distressed when I spoke again?* I asked her. 

“ ‘Because I did not know that you were here,* she said. 

“ ‘But,* I said, ‘you say that you had just heard my whisper and 
had answered to it, and now you say that you did not know I was 
here.* 

‘“I did not know that you were here,* she repeated, in a low 
voice, and the import of what she was saying dawned upon me. 

Listen, I said, ‘when you heard the whisper— did you recognize 
ft as my voice?* 

“She stared at me, not answering. 

“ ‘Answer me,’ I demanded, for I had to know. 

184 



She continued to stare, and finally replied hesitantly, 1 do not 
know/ 

Tou thought it was-' I began, but before I could utter the 
words she had flung herself upon me, clasping me in desperation 
like a person frantic with drowning, and ejaculating, ‘No, no, it 
does not matter what I thought, you are here, you are here!' And 
she drew my face down and pressed her lips against mine to stop 
my words. Her lips were cold, but they hung upon mine. 

“I too was perfectly cold, as of a mortal chill. And the coldness 
was the final horror of the act which we performed, as though two 
dolls should parody the shame and filth of man to make it doubly 
shameful. 

“After, she said to me, ‘Had I not found you here tonight, it 
could never have been between us again.' 

“ ‘Why?' I demanded. 

“ ‘It was a sign,' she said. 

“ ‘A sign?' I demanded. 

“ ‘A sign that we cannot escape, that we-' and she inten'upted 
herself, to resume, whispering fiercely in the dark—'I do not want 
to escape— it is a sign— whatever I have done is done.' She grew 
quiet for a moment, then she said, ‘Give me your hand.' 

“I gave her my right hand. She grasped it, dropped it, and said, 
'The other, the other hand.' 

“I held it out, across my own body, for I was sitting on her left. 
She seized it with her own left hand, bringing her hand upward 
from below to press my hand fiat against her bosom. Then, fum- 
blingly, she slipped a ring upon my finger, the finger next to the 
smallest. 

“ ‘What is that?' I asked. 

“ ‘A ring,' she answered, paused, and added, ‘It is his ring.' 

*‘Then I recalled that he, my friend, had always worn a wedding 
ring, and I felt the metal cold upon my flesh. ‘Did you take it off 
of his finger?' I asked, and the thought shook me. 

“ *No,' she said. 

“ ‘No?’ I questioned. 

“ *No,' she said, ‘he took it off. It was the only time he ever took 
it off.' 

“I sat beside her, waiting for what, I did not know, while she 
held my hand pressed against her bosom. I could feel it rise and 
fall. I could say nothing. 

“Then she said, ‘Do you want to know how— how he took it off?' 

“ ‘Yes,' I said in the dark, and waiting for her to speak, I moved 
my tongue out upon my dry lips. 

185 



•* listen/ sue commanded me in an imperious whisper, ‘that eve- 
ning after— after it happened— after the house was quiet again, I 
sat in my room, in the little chair by the dressing table, where I 
always sit for Phebe to let down my hair. I had sat there out of 
habit, I suppose, for I was numb all over. I watched Phebe pre- 
paring the bed for the night/ (Phebe was her waiting maid, a 
comely yellow wench somewhat given to the fits and sulls.) *I saw 
Phebe remove the bolster and then look down at a spot where the 
bolster had lain, on my side of the bed. She picked something up 
and came toward me. She stared at me— and her eyes, they are yel- 
low, you look into them and you can't see what is in them— she 
stared at me— a long time— and then she held out her hand, clenched 
shut and she watched me— and then— slow, so slow— she opened up 
the fingers— and there lay the ring on the palm of her hand— and 
I knew it was his ring but all 1 thought was, it is gold and it is 
lying in a gold hand. For Phebe's hand was gold— I had never no- 
ticed how her hand is the color of pure gold. Then I looked up 
and she was still staring at me, and her eyes were gold, too, and 
bright and hard like gold. And I knew that she knew/ 

“ ‘Knew?* I echoed, like a question, but I knew, too, now. My 
friend had learned the truth— from the coldness of his wife, from 
the gossip of servants— and had drawn the gold ring from his finger 
and carried it to the bed where he had lain with her and had put 
it beneath her pillow and had gone down and shot himself but 
under such circumstances that no one save his wife would ever 
guess it to be more than an accident. But he had made one fault 
of calculation. The yellow wench had found the ring. 

“ *She knows,* she whispered, pressing my hand hard against her 
bosom, which heaved and palpitated with a new wildness. ‘She 
knows— and she looks at me— she will always look at me.* Then 
suddenly her voice dropped, and a wailing intonation came into it: 
‘She will tell. All of them will know. All of them in the house will 
look at me and know— when they hand me the dish— when they 
come into the room— and their feet don't make any noisel* She rose 
abruptly, dropping my hand. I remained seated, and she stood 
there beside me, her back toward me, the whiteness of her face and 
hands no longer visible, and to my sight the blackness of her cos- 
tume faded into the shadow, even in such proximity. Suddenly, in 
a voice which I did not recognize for its hardness, she said in the 
darkness above me, ‘I will not abide it, I will not abide iti* Then 
she turned, and with a swooping motion leaned to kiss me upon 
the mouth. Then she was gone from my side and I heard her feet 

186 



running up the gravel o£ the path. I sat there in the darkness for 
a time longer, turning the ring upon my finger.” 

After that meeting in the summerhouse, Gass did not see Anna- 
belle Trice for some days. He. learned that she had gone to Louis- 
ville, where, he recalled she had dose friends. She had, as was 
natural, taken Phebe widi her. Then he heard that she had re- 
turned, and that night, late, went to the summerhouse in the 
garden. She was there, sitting in the dark. She greeted him. She 
seemed, he wrote later, peculiarly cut off, remote, and vague in 
manner, like a somnambulist or a person drugged. He asked about 
her trip to Louisville, and she replied briefly that she had been 
down the river to Paducah, He remarked that he had not known 
that she had friends in Paducah, and she said that she had none 
there. Then, all at once, she turned on him, the vagueness chang- 
ing to violence, and burst out, “You are prying— you are prying 
into my affairs— and I will not tolerate it.” Cass stammered out 
some excuse before she cut in to say, “But if you must know, 1*11 
tell you. I took her there.** 

For a moment Cass was genuinely confused, 

“Her?** he questioned. 

“Phebe,** she replied, “I took her to Paducah, and she*s gone.** 

“Gone— gone where?** 

“Down the river,** she answered, repeated, “down the river,** and 
laughed abruptly, and added, “and she won*t look at me any more 
like that.** 

“You sold her?** 

“Yes, I sold her. In Paducah, to a man who was making up a 
coffle of Negroes for New Orleans. And nobody knows me in 
Paducah, nobody knew I was there, nobody knows I sold her, for 
I shall say she ran away into Illinois, But I sold her. For thirteen 
hundred dollars,** 

“You got a good price,** Cass said, “even for a yellow girl as 
sprightly as Phebe.** And, as he reports in the joumd, he laughed 
with some “bitterness and rudeness,** though he does not say why. 

“Yes,** she replied, “I got a good price. I made him pay every 
penny she was worth. And then do you know what I did with the 
money, do you?** 

“No.** 

“When I came off the boat at Louisville, there was an old man, 
a nigger, sitting on the landing stage, and he was blind and picking 
on a guitar and singing "Old Dan Tucker.* I took the money ouL 
of my bag and walked to him and laid it in his old hat.*' 

187 



"If you were going to give the money away— if you felt the money 
was defiled— why didn't you free her?" Cass asked. 

"She'd stay right here, she wouldn't go away, she would stay 
right here and look at me. Oh, no, she wouldn't go away, for she's 
the wife of a man the Motley's have, their coachman. Oh, she'd stay 
right here and look at me and tell, tell what she knows, and I'll 
not abide itl" 

Then Cass said, "If you had spoken to me I would have bought 
the man from Mr. Motley and set him free, too." 

"He wouldn't have sold," she said, "the Motleys won't sell a 
servant." 

"Even to be freed?" Cass continued, but she cut in, "I tell you 
I won't have you interfering with my affairs, do you understand 
that?" And she rose from his side and stood in the middle of the 
summerhouse, and he saw the glimmer of her face in the shadow 
and heard her agitated breathing. "I thought you were fond of 
her,” Cass said. 

"I was," she said, "until— until she looked at me like that." 

"You know why you got that price for her?" Cass asked, and 
without waiting for an answer, went on, "Because she's yellow and 
comely and well-made. Oh, the drovers wouldn't take her down 
chained in a cofHe. They wouldn't wear her down. They'll take her 
down the river soft. And you know why?" 

"Yes, I know why," she said, "and what is it to you? Are you so 
charmed by her?" 

"That is unfair," Cass said. 

"Oh, I see, Mr. Mastem," she said, “oh, I see, you are concerned 
for the honor of a black coachman. It is a very delicate sentiment, 
Mr. Mastem. Why—” and she came to stand above him as he still 
sat on the bench— "why did you not show some such delicate con- 
cern for the honor of your friend? Who is now dead." 

According to the journal, there was, at this moment, "a tempest 
of feeling” in his breast. He wrote: "Thus I heard put into words 
for the first time the accusation which has ever in all dimes been 
that most calculated to make wince a man of proper nurture or 
natural rectitude. What the hardened man can bear to hear from 
the still small voice within, may yet be when spoken by any exter- 
nal tongue an accusation dire enough to drain his very cheeks of 
blood. But it was not only that accusation in itself, for in very 
truth I had supped full of that horror and made it my long 
familiar. It was not merely the betrayal of my friend. It was not 
merely the death of my friend, at whose breast I had levelled the 
weapon. I could have managed somehow to live with those facts. 

188 



But I suddenly felt that the world outside of me was shifting and 
the substance of things, and that the process had only begun of 
a general disintegration of which I was the center. At that moment 
of perturbation, when the cold sweat broke on my brow, I did not 
frame any sentence distinctly to my mind. But I have looked back 
and wrestled to know the truth. It was not the fact that a slave 
woman was being sold away from the house where she had had pro- 
tection and kindness and away from the arms of her husband into 
debauchery. I knew that such things had happened in fact, and I 
was no child for after my arrival in Lexington and my acquaint- 
ance with the looser sort of companions, the sportsmen and the 
followers of the races, I had myself enjoyed such diversions. It was 
not only the fact that the woman for whom I had sacrificed my 
friend’s life and my honor could, in her own suffering, turn on me 
with a cold rage and the language of insult so that I did not recog- 
nize her. It was, instead, the fact that all of these things;~the death 
of my friend, the betrayal of Phebe, the suffering and rage and 
great change of the woman I had loved— all had come from my 
single act of sin and perfidy, as the boughs from the bole and the 
leaves from the bough. Or to figure the matter differently, it was 
as though the vibration set up in the whole fabric of the world 
by my act had spread infinitely and with ever increasing power and 
no man could know the end. I did not put it into words in such 
fashion, but I stood there shaken by a tempest of feeling.” 

When Cass had somewhat controlled his agitation, he said, “To 
whom did you sell the girl?” 

“What’s it to you?” she answered. 

“To whom did you sell the girl?” he repeated. 

“I'll not tell you,” she said. 

“I will find out,” he said. “I will go to Paducah and find out.” 

She grasped him by the arm, driving her fingers deep into the 
flesh, “like talons,” and demanded, “Why— why are you going?” 

“To find her,” he said. “To find her and buy her and set her 
free.” He had not premeditated this. He heard the words, he wrote 
in the journal, and knew that that was his intention. “To find her 
and buy her and set her free,” he said, and felt the grasp on his 
arm released and then in the dark suddenly felt the rake of her 
nails down his cheek, and heard her voice in a kind of “wild 
sibilance” saying, “If you do— if you do— oh. I'll not abide it— I will 
notl” 

She flung herself from his side and to the bench. He heard her 
gasp and sob, “a hard dry sob like a man's.” He did not move* 
Then he heard her voice, “If you do— if you do— she looked at me 

189 



that way, and Til not abide it— if you do—” Then aftet a pause, 
very quietly, “If you do, I shall never see you again.” 

He made no reply. He stood there for some minutes, he did not 
know how long, then left the summerhouse, where she still sat, and 
walked down the alley. 

The next morning he left for Paducah. He learned the name of 
the trader, but he also learned that the trader had sold Phebe (a 
yellow wench who answered to Phebe's description) to a “private 
party” who happened to be in Paducah at the time but who had 
gone on downriver. His name was unknown in Paducah. The 
trader had presumably sold Phebe so that he would be free to 
accompany his cofHe when it had been made up. He had now 
headed, it was said, into South Kentucky, with a few bucks and 
wenches, to pick up more. As Cass had predicted, he had not 
wanted to wear Phebe down by taking her in the coffle. So getting 
a good figure of profit in Paducah, he had sold her there. Cass went 
south as far as Bowling Green, but lost track of his man there. So 
rather hopelessly, he wrote a letter to the trader, in care of the 
market at New Orleans, asking for the name of the purchaser and 
any information about him. Then he swung back north to Lex- 
ington. 

At Lexington he went down to West Short Street, to the Lewis 
C. Robards barracoon, which Mr. Robards had converted from the 
old Lexington Theatre a few years earlier. He had a notion that 
Mr. Robards, the leading trader of the section, might be able, 
through his downriver connections, to locate Phebe, if enough of 
a commission was in sight. At the barracoon there was no one in 
the ofi6ce except a boy, who said that Mr. Robards was downriver 
but that Mr. Simms was “holding things down” and was over at 
the “house” at an “inspection.” So Cass went next door to the 
house. (When Jack Burden was in Lexington investigating the life 
of Cass Mastem, he saw the “house” still standing, a two-story brick 
building of the traditional residential type, roof running length- 
wise, door in center of front, windojvi^on each side, chimney at each 
end, lean-to in back. Robards had kept his “choice stock” there 
and not in the coops, to wait for “inspection.”) 

Cass found the main door unlocked 'at the house, entered the 
hall, saw no one, but heard laughter from above. He mounted the 
stairs and discovered, at the end of the hall, a small group of men 
gathered at an open door. He recognized a couple of them, young 
hangers-on he had seen about town and at the track. He approached 
and asked if Mr. Simms was about. “Inside,” one of the men said, 
•‘showing.” Over the heads, Cass could see into the room. First he 

190 



saw a short, strongly made man, a varnished-looking man, with 
black hair, black neckcloth, large bright black eyes, and black coat* 
with a crop in his hand. Cass knew immediately that he was a 
French “speculator,*’ who was buying “fancies” for Louisiana. The 
Frenchman was staring at something beyond Cass’s range of vision. 
Cass moved farther and could see within. 

There he saw the man whom he took to be Mr. Simms, a nonde- 
script fellow in a plug hat, and beyond him the figure of a woman. 
She was a very young woman, some twenty years old perhaps, rather 
slender, with skin slightly darker than ivory, probably an octaroon, 
and hair crisp rather than kinky, and deep dark liquid eyes, slightly 
bloodshot, which stared at a spot above and beyond ^e French- 
man. She did not wear the ordinary plaid Osnaburg and kerchief 
of the female slave up for sale, but a white, loosely cut dress, with 
elbow-length sleeves, and skirts to the floor and no kerchief, only 
a band to her hair. Beyond her, in the neatly furnished room 
(“quite genteel,” the journal called it, while noting the barred 
windows), Cass saw a rocking chair and little table, and on the 
table a sewing basket with a piece of fancy needlework lying there 
with the needle stuck in it, “as though some respectable young lady 
or householder had dropped it casually aside upon rising to greet 
a guest.” Cass recorded that somehow he found himself staring at 
the needlework. 

.“Yeah,” Mr. Simms was saying, “yeah.” And grasped the girl by 
the shoulder to swing her slowly around for a complete view. Then 
he seized one of her wrists and lifted the arm to shoulder level 
and worked it back and forth a couple of times to show the supple 
articulation, saying, “Yeah.” That done, he drew the arm forward, 
holding it toward the Frenchman, the hand hanging limply from 
the wrist which he held. (The hand was, according to the journal, 
“well moulded, and the fingers tapered.”) “Yeah,” Mr. Simms said, 
“look at that-air hand. Ain’t no lady got a littler, teensier hand. 
And round and soft, yeah?” 

“Ain’t she got nuthen else round and soft?” one of the men at 
the door called, and the others laughed. 

“Yeah,” Mr. Simms said, and leaned to take the hem of her 
dress, which with a delicate flirting motion he lifted higher than 
her waist, while he reached out with his other hand to wad the 
doth and draw it into a kind of “awkward girdle” about her waist. 
Still holding the wad of doth he walked around her, forcing her 
to turn (she turned “without resistance and as though in a trance”) 
with his motion until her small buttocks were toward the door. 
"TElound and soft, boys,” Mr. Simms said, and gave her a good 

191 



whack on the near buttock to make the flesh tremble. “Ever git 
yore hand on anything rounder ner softer, boys?” he demanded* 
“Hit's a cushion, I declare. And shake like sweet jelly.” 

“God-a-Mighty and got on stockings,” one of the men said. 

While the other men laughed, the Frenchman stepped to the 
side of the girl, reached out to lay the tip of his riding crop at the 
little depression just above the beginning of the swell of tlie but- 
tocks. He held the tip delicately there for a moment, then flat- 
tened the crop across the back and moved it down slowly, evenly 
across each buttock, to trace the fullness of the curve, “Turn her,” 
he said in his foreign voice. 

Mr. Simms obediently carried the wad around, and the body 
followed in the half revolution. One of the men at the door whis- 
tled. The Frenchman laid his crop across the woman's belly as 
though he were a “carpenter measuring something or as to demon- 
strate its flatness,” and moved it down as before, tracing the struc- 
ture, until it came to rest across the thighs, below the triangle. Then 
he let his hand fall to his side, with the crop. “Open your mouth,” 
he said to the girl. 

She did so, and he peered earnestly at her teeth. Then he leaned 
and whiffed her breath. “It is a good breath,” he admitted, as 
though grudgingly. 

“Yeah,” Mi. Simms said, “yeah, you ain't a-finden no better 
breath,” 

“Have you any others?” the Frenchman demanded. “On hand?” 

“We got 'em,” Mr. Simms said. 

“Let me see,” the Frenchman said, and moved toward the door 
with, apparently, the “insolent expectation” that the group there 
would dissolve before him. He went out into the hall, Mr. Simms 
following. While Mr. Simms locked the door, Cass said to him, 
“I wish to speak to you, if you are Mr. Simms.” 

“Huh?” Mr. Simms said (“grunted” according to the journal), 
but looking at Cass became suddenly civil for he could know from 
dress and bearing that Cass was not one of the casual hangers-on. 
So Mr, Simms admitted the Frenchman to the next room to inspect 
its occupant, and returned to Cass. Cas^ remarked in the journal 
that trouble might have been avoided if he had been more careful 
to speak in private, but he wrote that at the time the matter was 
so much upon his mind that the men who stood about were as 
shadows to him. 

He explained his wish to Mr. Simms, described Phebe as well as 
I^ible, gave the name of the trader in Paducah, and offered a 
liberal commission. Mr. Simms seemed dubious, promised to do 

192 



what he could, and then said, ‘‘But nine outa ten you won't git her, 
Mister. And we got sumthen here better. You done seen Delphy, 
and she's nigh white as airy woman, and a sight more juicy, and 
that gal you talk about is nuthen but yaller. Now Delphy—” 

“But the young gemmun got a hankeren fer yaller,” one of the 
hangers-on said, and laughed, and the others laughed too. 

Cass struck him across the mouth. “I struck him with the side 
of my fist,” Cass wrote, “to bring blood. I struck him without 
thought, and I recollect the surprise which visited me when I saw 
the blood on his chin and saw him draw a bowie from his shirt 
front. I attempted to avoid his first blow, but received it upon my 
left shoulder. Before he could withdraw, I had grasped his wrist 
in my right hand, forced it down so that I could also use my left 
hand, which still had some strength left at that moment, and with 
a turning motion of my body I broke his arm across my right hip, 
and then knocked him to the floor. I recovered the bowie from the 
floor, and with it faced the man who seemed to be the friend of 
the man who was now prostrate. He had a knife in his hand, but 
he seemed disinclined to pursue the discussion.” 

Cass declined the assistance of Mr. Simms, pressed a handker- 
chief over his wound, walked out of the building and toward his 
lodgings, and collapsed on West Short Street, He was carried home. 
The next day he was better. He learned that Mrs. Trice had left 
the city, presumably for Washington. A couple of days later his 
wound infected, and for some time he lay in delirium between life 
and death. His recovery was slow, presumably retarded by what he 
termed in the journal his “will toward darkness.” But his consti- 
tution was stronger than his will, and he recovered, to know him- 
self as the “chief of sinners and a plague spot on the body of the 
human world.” He would have committed suicide except for the 
fear of damnation for that act, for though “hopeless of Grace I yet 
clung to the hope of Grace.” But sometimes the very fact of dam- 
nation because of suicide seemed to be the very reason for suicide: 
he had brought his friend to suicide and the friend, by that act, 
was eternally damned; therefore he, Cass Mastern, should, in jus- 
tice, insure his own damnation by the same act. “But the Lord 
preserved me from self-slaughter for ends which are His and beyond 
my knowledge,” 

Mrs. Trice did not come back to Lexington. 

He returned to Missisrippi, For two years he operated his plan- 
tation, read the Bible, prayed, and, strangely enough, prospered 
greatly, almost as though against his will. In the end he repaid 
Gilbert his debt, and set free his slaves. He had some notion of 

193 



operating the plantation with the same force on a wage basis. “You 
fool,” Gilbert said to him, “be a private fool if you must, but in 
God's name don't be a public one. Do you think you can work them 
and them free? One day work, one day loaf. Do you think you can 
have a passel of free niggers next door to a plantation with slaves? 
If you did have to set them free, you don’t have to spend the rest 
of your natural life nursing them. Get them out of this country, 
and take up law or medicine. Or preach the Gospel and at least 
make a living out of all this praying.'' Cass tried for more than a 
year to operate the plantation with his free Negroes, but was com- 
pelled to confess that the project was a failure. “Get them out of 
the country,'* Gilbert said to him. “And why don't you go with 
them. Why don’t you go North?” 

“I belong here,” Cass replied. 

“Well, why don’t you preach Abolition right here?” Gilbert de- 
manded. “Do something, do anything, but stop making a fool of 
yourself trying to raise cotton with free niggers.” 

“Perhaps I shall preach Abolition,” Cass said, “some day. Even 
here. But not now. I am not worthy to instruct others. Not now. 
But meanwhile there is my example. If it is good, it is not lost. 
Nothing is ever lost.” 

“Except your mind,” Gilbert said, and flung heavily from the 
room. 

There was a sense of trouble in the air. Only Gilbert’s great 
wealth and prestige and scarcely concealed humorous contempt for 
Cass saved Cass horn ostracism, or worse. (“His contempt for me 
is a shield,” Cass wrote. “He treats me like a wayward and silly 
child who may leam better and who does not have to be taken 
seriously. Therefore my neighbors do not take me seriously,”) But 
trouble did come. One of Cass’s Negroes had a broad-wife on a 
plantation near by. After she had had some minor trouble with 
the overseer, the husband stole her from the plantation and ran 
away. Toward the Tennessee border the pair were taken. The man, 
resisting officers, was shot; the woman was brought back. “See,” 
Gilbert said, “all you have managed to do is get one nigger killed 
and one nigger whipped. I offer my congratulations.” So Cass put 
his free Negroes on a boat bound upriver, and never heard of 
them again. 

“I saw the boat head out into the channel, and watched the 
wheels chum against the strong current, and my spirit was troubled. 
I knew that the Negroes were passing from one misery to another, 
and that the hopes they now carried would be blighted. They had 
kissed my hands and wept for joy, but I could take no part in their 

194 



rejoicing. I had not flattered myself that I had done anything for 
them. What I had done I had done for myself, to relieve my spirit 
of a burden, the burden of their misery and their eyes upon me. 
The wife of my dead friend had found the eyes of the girl Phebe 
upon her and had gone wild and had ceased to be herself and had 
sold the girl into misery, I had found their eyes upon me and had 
freed them into misery, lest I should do worse. For many cannot 
bear their eyes upon them, and enter into evil and cruel ways in 
their desperation. There was in Lexington a decade and more 
before my stay in that city, a wealthy lawyer named Fielding L. 
Turner, who had married a lady of position from Boston. This lady 
Caroline Turner, who had never had blacks around her and who 
had been nurtured in sentiments opposed to the institution of 
human servitude, quickly became notorious for her abominable 
cruelties performed in her fits of passion. All persons of the com- 
munity reprehended her floggings, which she performed with her 
own hands, uttering meanwhile little cries in her throat, according 
to report. Once while she was engaged in flogging a servant in an 
apartment on the second floor of her palatial home, a small Negro 
boy entered the room and began to whimper. She seized him and 
bodily hurled him through the window of the apartment so that 
he fell upon stone below and broke his back to become a cripple 
for his days. To protect her from the process of law and the 
wrath of the community. Judge Turner committed her to a lunatic 
asylum. But later the physicians said her to be of sound mind and 
released her. Her husband in his will left her no slaves, for to do 
so would, the will said, be to doom them to misery in life and a 
speedy death. But she procured slaves, among them a yellow coach- 
man named Richard, mild of manner, sensible, and of plausible 
disposition. One day she had him chained and proceeded to flog 
him. But he tore himself from the chains that held him to the 
wall and seized the woman by the throat and strangled her. Later 
he was captured and hanged for murder, though many wished that 
his escape had been contrived. This story was told me in Lexing- 
ton. One lady said to me, ‘Mrs. Turner did not understand Ne- 
groes.' And another, ‘Mrs. Turner did it because she was from 
Boston where the Abolitionists are.' But I did not understand. 
Then, much later, I began to understand. I understood that Mrs. 
Turner flogged her Negroes for the same reason that the wife of 
my friend sold Phebe down the river: she could not bear their 
eyes upon her. I understand, for I can no longer bear their eyes 
upon me. Perhaps only a man like my brother Gilbert can in the 
midst of evil retain enough of innocence and strength to bear their 

195 



eyes upon him and to do a little justice in the tenns of the great 
injustice.” 

So Cass, who had a plantation with no one# to work it, went to 
Jackson, the capital of the state, and applied himself to the law. 
Before he left, Gilbert came to him and offered to take over the 
plantation and work it with a force of his people from his own 
great place on a share basis. Apparently he was still trying to make 
Cass rich. But Cass declined, and Gilbert said, “You object to my 
working it with slaves, is that it? Well, let me tell you, if you sell 
it, it will be worked with slaves. It is black land and will be watered 
with black sweat. Does it make any difference then, which black 
sweat falls on it?” And Cass replied that he was not going to sell 
the plantation. Then Gilbert, in an apoplectic rage, bellowed, “My 
God, man, it is land, don’t you understand, it is land, and land 
cries out for man’s handl” But Cass did not sell. He installed a 
caretaker in the house, and rented a little land to a neighbor for 
pasture. 

He went to Jackson, sat late with his books, and watched trouble 
gathering over the land. For it was the autumn of 1858 when he 
went to Jackson. On January g, 1861, Mississippi passed the ordi- 
nance of -'recession. Gilbert had opposed secession, writing to Cass: 
‘The fools, there is not a factory for arms in the state. Fools not 
to have prepared themselves if they have foreseen the trouble. 
Fools, if they have not foreseen it, to act thus in the face of facts. 
Fools not to temporize now and, if they must, prepare themselves 
to strike a blow. I have told responsible men to prepare. All fools." 
To which Cass replied: “I pray much for peace.” But later, he 
wrote: “I have talked with Mr. French, who is, as you know, the 
Chief of Ordnance, and he says that they have only old muskets 
for troops, and those but flintlocks. The agents have scraped the 
state for shotguns, at the behest of Governor Pettus. Shotguns, Mr. 
French said, and curled his lips. And what shotguns, he added, 
and then told me of a weapon contributed to the cause, an old 
musket barrel strapped with metal to a piece of cypress rail crooked 
at one end. An old slave gave his treasure to the cause, and does 
one laugh or weep?” After Jefferson Davis had come back to Mis- 
sissippi, having resigned from the Senate, and had accepted the 
command of the troops of Mississippi with the rank of Major 
General, Cass called upon him, at the request of Gilbert. He wrote 
to Gilbert: ‘The General says that they have given him 10,000 
men, but not a stand of modem rifles. But the General also said, 
they have given me a very fine coat with fourteen brass buttons in 

196 



front and a blade velvet collar. Perhaps we can nse the buttons in 
our shotguns, he said, and smiled.” 

Cass saw Mr. Davis once more, for he was with Gilbert on the 
steamboat Natchez which carried the new President of the Con- 
federacy on the first stage of his journey from his plantation. Brier- 
field, to Montgome^. '*We were on old Mr. Tom Leather’s boat,” 
Cass wrote in the journal, “which had been supposed to pick up 
the President at a landing a few miles below Brierfield. But Mr. 
Davis was delayed in leaving his house and was 'rowed out to us, 
I leaned on the rail and saw the little black skiff proceeding to- 
ward us over the red water. A man waved from the skiff to us. The 
captain of the Natchez observed the signal, and gave a great blast 
of his boat’s whistle which made our ears tingle and shivered out 
over the expanse of waters. The boat stopped and the skiff ap- 
proached. Mr. Davis was received on board. As the steamboat 
moved on, Mr. Davis looked back and lifted his hand in salute to 
the Negro servant (Isaiah Montgomery, whom I had known at 
Brierfield) who stood in the skiff, which rocked in the wash of the 
steamboat, and waved his farewell. Later, as we proceeded tip- 
river toward the bluffs of Vicksburg, he approached my brother, 
with whom I was standing on the deck. We had previously greeted 
him. My brother again, and more intimately, congratulated Mr. 
Davis, who replied that he could take no pleasure in the honor. 
'I have,’ he said, ‘always looked upon the Union with a supersti- 
tious reverence and have freely risked my life for its dear flag on 
more than one battlefield, and you, gentlemen, can conceive the 
sentiment now in me that the object of my attachment for many 
years has been withdrawn from me.* And he continued, ‘I have in 
the present moment only the melancholy pleasure of an easy con- 
science.* Then he smiled, as he did rarely. Thereupon he took his 
leave of us and retired within. I had observed how worn to ema- 
ciation was his face by illness and care, and how thin the skin lay 
over the bone. I remarked to my brother that Mr. Davis did not 
look well. He replied, ‘A sick man, it is a fine how-de-do to have 
a sick man for a president.* I responded that there might be no 
war, that Mr. Davis hoped for peace. But my brother said, ‘Make 
no mistake, the Yankees will fight and they will fight well and 
Mr. Davis is a fool to hope for peace.' I replied, ‘All good men 
hope for peace.* At this my brother uttered an indistinguishable 
exdamation, and said, ‘What we want now they’ve got into this 
is not a good man but a man who can win, and I am not interested 
in the luxury of Mr. Davis’s conscience.* Then my brother and I 
continued our promenade in silence, and I reflected that Mr. Davis 

•tr\n 



vm a good man. But the world is full of good men, I now reflect 
as I write these lines down, and yet the world drives hard into 
darkness and the blindness of blood, even as now late at night I 
sit in this hotel room in Vicksburg, and I am moved to ask the 
meaning o£ our virtue. May God hear our prayer! 

Gilbert received a commission as colonel in a cavalry regiment. 
Cass enlisted as a private in the Mississippi Rifles. “You could be a 
captain,*' Gilbert said, “or a major. You've got brains enough for 
that. And,” he added, “damned few of them have.” Cass replied 
that he preferred to be a private soldier, “marching with other 
men.” But he could not tell his brother why, or tell his brotlier 
that, though he would march with other men and would carry a 
weapon in his hand, he would never take the life of an enemy. “I 
must march with these men who march,” he wrote in the journal, 
“for they are my people and I must partake with them of all bit- 
terness, and that more fully. But I cannot take the life of another 
man. How can I who have taken the life of my friend, take the life 
of an enemy, for I have used up my right to blood.” So Cass 
marched away to war, carrying the musket which was, for him, but 
a meaningless burden, and wearing on a string, against the flesh 
of his chest, beneath the fabric of the gray jacket, the ring which 
had once been Duncan Trice's wedding ring and which Annabelle 
Trice, that night in the summerhouse, had slipped onto his finger 
as his hand lay on her bosom. 

Cass marched to Shiloh, between the fresh fields, for it was early 
April, and then into the woods that screened the river. (Dogwood 
and redbud would have been out then.) He marched into the 
woods, heard the lead whistle by his head, saw the dead men on 
the ground, and the next day came out of the woods and moved 
in the sullen withdrawal toward Corinth. He had been sure that 
he would not survive the battle. But he had survived, and moved 
down the crowded road “as in a dream.” And he wrote: “And I 
felt that henceforward I should live in that dream.” The dream 
took him into Tennessee again— Chickamauga, Knoxville, Chatta- 
nooga, and the nameless skirmishes, and the bullet for which he 
waited did not find him. At Chickamauga, when his company 
wavered in the enemy fire and seemed about to break in its attack, 
he moved steadily up the slope and could not understand his own 
inviolability. And the men regrouped, and followed. “It seemed 
strange to me,” he wrote, “that I who in God's will sought death 
and could not find it, should in my seeking lead men to it who did 
not seek.” When Colonel Hickman congratulated him, he could 
“find no words” for answer. 


198 



But if he had put on the gray jacket in anguish of spirit and in 
hope of expiation, he came to wear it in pride, for it was a jacket 
like those worn by the men with whom he marched. have seen 
men do brave things,” he wrote, **and they ask for nothing.” And 
he added, ”It is not hard to love men for the things they endure 
and for the words they do not speak.” More and more, too, there 
crept into the journal the comments of the professional soldier, 
between the prayers and the scruples—criticism of command (of 
Bragg after Chickamauga), satisfaction and an impersonal pride in 
maneuver or gunnery (“the practice of Marlowe^s battery excel- 
lent*'), and finally the admiration for the feints and delays executed 
by Johnston's virtuosity on the approaches to Atlanta, at Buzzard's 
Roost, Snake Creek Gap, New Hope Church, Kenesaw Mountain 
(“there is always a kind of glory, however stained or obscured, in 
whatever man's hand does well, and General Johnston does weir')* 

Then, outside Atlanta, the bullet found him. He lay in the hos- 
pital and rotted slowly to death. But even before the infection set 
in, when the wound in the leg seemed scarcely serious, he knew 
that he would die. “I shall die,” he wrote in the journal, “and shall 
be spared the end and the last bitterness of war. I have lived to do 
no man good, and have seen otliers suffer for my sin. I do not ques- 
tion the Justice of God, that others have suffered for my sin, for 
it may be that only by the suffering of the innocent does God 
affirm that men are brothers, and brothers in His Holy Name. And 
in this room with me now, men suffer for sins not theirs, as for 
their own. It is a comfort to know that I suffer only for my own,” 
He knew not only that he was to die, but that the war was over. 
“It is over. It is all over but the dying, which will yet go on. 
Though the boil has come to a head and has burst, yet must the 
pus flow. Men shall come together yet and die in the common guilt 
of man and in the guilt that sent them hither from far places and 
distant firesides. But God in His Mercy has spared me the end. 
Blessed be His Name.” 

There was no more in the journal. There was only the letter to 
Gilbert, written in the strange hand, dictated by Cass after he had 
grown too weak to write. “Remember me, but without grief. If one 
of us is lucky, it is I . . 

Atlanta fell. In the last confusion, the grave of Cass Mastern was 
not marked. Someone at the hospital, a certain Albert Calloway, 
kept Cass’s papers and the ring which he had carried on the cord 
around his neck, and much later, after the war in fact, sent them 
to Gilbert Mastern with a courteous note. Gilbert preserved the 

199 



journal, the letters from Cass, the picture of Cass, and the ring on 
its cord, and after Gilbert’s death, the heir finally sent the packet 
to Jack Burden, the student of history. So they came to rest on the 
little pine table in Jack Burden’s bedroom in the slatternly apart- 
ment which he occupied with the two other graduate students, the 
unlucky, industrious, and alcoholic one, and the lucky, idle, and 
alcoholic one. 

Jack Burden lived with the Mastern papers for a year and a half. 
He wanted to know all of the facts of the world in v/hich Cass and 
Gilbert Mastern had lived, and he did know many of the facts. 
And he felt that he knew Gilbert Mastern. Gilbert Mastern had 
kept no journal, but Jack Burden felt that he knew him, the man 
with the head like the block of bare granite, who had lived through 
one world into another and had been at home in both. But the day 
came when Jack Burden sat down at the pine table and realized 
that he did not know Cass Mastern. He did not have to know Cass 
Mastern to get the degree; he only had to know the facts about 
Gass Mastern’s world. But without knowing Cass Mastern, he could 
no.t put down the facts about Cass Mastern’s world. Not that Jack 
Burden said that to himself. He simply sat there at the pine table, 
night after night, staring at the photograph, and writing nothing. 
Then he would get up to get a drink of water,, and would stand 
in the dark kitchen, holding an old jelly glass in his hand, waiting 
for the water to run cold from the tap. 

I have said that Jack Burden could not put down the facts about 
Cass Mastern’s world because he did not know Cass Mastern. Jack 
Burden did not say definitely to himself why he did not know Cass 
Mastern. But I (who am what Jack Burden became) look back now, 
years later, and try to say why. 

Cass Mastern lived for a few years and in that time he learned 
that the world is all of one piece. He learned that the world is like 
an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at 
any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the 
drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy no more but springs 
out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the 
web and then inject the black, numbing poison under your hide. It 
does not matter whether or not you meant to brush the web of 
things. Your happy foot or your gay wing may have brushed it ever 
so lightly, but what happens always happens and there is the spider, 
bearded black and with his great faceted eyes glittering like mirrors 
in the sun, or like God’s eye, and the fangs dripping. 

But how could Jack Burden, being what he was, understand that? 

200 



He could read the words written many years before in the lonely 
plantation house after Cass Mastern had freed his slaves or in the 
lawyer^s room in Jackson, Mississippi, or by candlelight in the 
hotel room in Vicksburg after the conversation with Jefferson Davis 
or by the dying campfire in some bivouac while the forms of men 
lay stretched on the ground in the night around and the night was 
filled with a slow, sad, susurrous rustle, like the wind fingering the 
pines, which was not, however, the sound of wind in the pines but 
the breath of thousands of sleeping men. Jack Burden could read 
those words, but how could he be expected to understand them? 
They could only be words to him, for to him the world then was 
simply an accumulation of items, odds and ends of things like the 
broken and misused and dust-shrouded things gathered in a garret. 
Or it was a flux of things before his eyes (or behind his eyes) and 
one thing had nothing to do, in the end, with anything else. 

Or perhaps he laid aside the journal of Cass Mastern not because 
he could not understand, but because he was afraid to understand 
for what might be understood there was a reproach to him. 

In any case, he laid aside the journal and entered upon one of 
the periods of the Great Sleep. He would come home in the eve* 
ning, and because he knew that he could not work he would go to 
bed immediately. He would sleep twelve hours, fourteen hours, 
fifteen hours, feeling himself, while asleep, pipnge deeper and 
deeper into sleep like a diver groping downward into dark water 
feeling for something which may be there and which would glitter 
if there were any light in the depth, but there isn't any light. Then 
in the morning he would lie in bed, not wanting anything, not even 
hungry, hearing the small sounds of the world sneaking and seep- 
ing back into the room, under the door, through the glass, through 
the cracks in the wall, through the very pores of the wood and 
plaster. Then he would think: If I don*t get up I can't go back to 
bed. And he would get up and go out into a world which seemed 
very unfamiliar, but with a tantalizing unfamiliarity like the world 
of boyhood to which an old man returns. 

Then one morning he went out into that world and did not 
come back to the room and the pine table. The black books, in 
which the journal was written, the ring, the photograph, the packet 
of letters were left there, beside the thick stack of manuscript, the 
complete works of Jack Burden, which was already beginning to 
curl at the edges under the paperweight. 

Some weeks later, the landlady of the apartment sent him a big 
parcel, collect, containing the stuff he had left on the little pine 
table. The parcel, unopened, traveled around with him from fur* 

201 



nished room to furnished room, to the apartment where he lived 
for a Virhile with his beautiful wife Lois until the time came when 
he just walked out the door and didn’t come back; to the other 
furnished rooms and hotel rooms, a big squarish parcel with the 
brown paper turning yellow and the cords sagging, and the name 
Mr. Jack Burden fading slowly. 


202 



Chapter Five 


THAT was the end of my first journey into the enchantments of 
the past, my first job of historical research. It was, as I have indh 
cated, not a success. But the second job was a sensational success. 
It was the '‘Case of the Upright Judge*’ and I had every reason to 
congratulate myself on a job well done. It was a perfect research 
job, marred in its technical perfection by only one thing: it meant 
something. 

It all began, as I have said, when the Boss, sitting in the black 
Cadillac which sped through, the night, said to me (to Me who was 
what Jack Burden, the student of history, had grown up to be), 
’'There is always something.” 

And I said, “Maybe not on the Judge.*’ 

And he said, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption 
and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the 
shroud. There is always something.” 

The black Cadillac made its humming sound through the night 
and the tires sang on the slab and the black fields streaked with 
mist swept by. Sugar-Boy was hunched over the wheel, which 
looked too big for him, and the Boss sat straight up, up there in 
the front seat. I could see the black mass of his head against the 
tunnel of light down which we raced. Then I dozed off. 

It was the stopping of the car that woke me up. I realized that 
we were back at the Stark place. I crawled out of the car. The Boss 
was already out, standing in the yard, just inside the gate in the 
starlight; Sugar-Boy was locking the car doors-. 

When I went into the yard, the Boss said, “Sugar-Boy is going 
to sleep on the couch downstairs, but there’s a cot made up for you 
upstairs, second door on the left at the head of the stairs. You bet- 
ter get some shut-eye, for tomorrow you start digging for what the 
Judge dropped.” 

“It will be a long dig,” I said, 

m 



“Look here/* he said, *'il you don’t want to do It you don’t have 
to. I can always pay somebody else. Or do you want a raise?” 

“No, I don’t want a raise,” I said. 

“I am raising you a hundred a month, whether you want it or 
not.” 

“Give it to the church,” I said. “If I wanted money, I could think 
of easier ways to make it than the way I make it with you.” 

“So you work for me because you love me,” the Boss said. 

“I don’t know why I work for you, but it’s not because I love 
you. And not for money.” 

“No,” he said, standing there in the dark, “you don’t know why 
you work for me. But I know,” he said, and laughed. 

Sugar-Boy came into the yard, said good night, and went on to 
the house. 

“Why?” I asked. 

“Boy,” he said, “you work for me because I’m the way I am and 
you’re the way you are. It is an arrangement founded on the nature 
of things.” 

“That’s a hell of a fine explanation.” 

“It’s not an explanation,” he said, and laughed again. “There 
ain’t any explanations. Not of anything. All you can do is point 
at the nature of things. If you are smart enough to see ’em.” 

“I’m not smart enough,” I said. 

“You’re smart enough to dig up whatever it is on the Judge.” 

“There may not be anything.” 

“Nuts,” he said. “Go to bed.” 

“Aren’t you coming to bed?” 

“No,” he said, and I left him walking across the yard in the dark, 
with his head bowed a little, and his hands clasped behind him, 
walking casually as though he had come out to stroU through the 
park on Sunday afternoon. But it was not afternoon: it was 3:15 

A.M. 

I lay on the cot upstairs, but I didn’t go right to sleep. I thought 
about Judge Irwin. About the way he had looked at me that very 
night from his tall old head, the way the yellow eyes had glittered 
and the lip curled over the strong old yellow teeth as he said, “I’m 
dining with your mother this week. Shall I tell her you still like 
your work?” But that didn’t last, ana I saw him sitting in the long 
room in the white house by the sea, leaning over a chessboard, 
facing the Scholarly Attorney, and he wasn’t an old man, he was 
a young man, and the high aquiline florid face was brooding over 
the board. But that didn’t last, and the face leaned toward me 
among the stems of the tall gray marsh grass, in the damp gray 

204 



wintry dawn, and said, ‘‘You ought to have led that duck more. 
Jack. You got to lead a duck, son. But, son. I’ll make a duck hunter 
out of you yet.” And the face smiled. And I wanted to speak out 
and demand, “Is there anything. Judge? Will I find anything?” 
But the face only smiled, and I went to sleep. Before it could sa| 
anything, I went to sleep in the middle of the smile. 

Then it was another day, and I set out to dig up the dead cat, 
to excavate the maggot from the cheese, to locate the canker in 
the rose, to find the deceased fly among the raisins in the rice pud- 
ding. 

I found it. 

But not all at once. You do not find it all at once if you are 
hunting for it. It is buried under the sad detritus of time, where, 
no doubt, it belongs. And you do not want to find it all at once, 
not if you are a student of history. If you found it all at once, there 
would be no opportunity to use your technique. But I had an 
opportunity to use my technique. 

I took the first step the next afternoon while I sat in a beer par- 
lor in the city, surrounded by a barricade of empty beer bottles. 
I lighted a fresh cigarette from the butt of the last one and asked 
myself the following question: “For what reason, barring Original 
Sin, is a man most likely to step over the line?’' 

I answered: “Ambition, love, fear, money.” 

I asked: “Is the Judge ambitious?” 

I answered: “No. An ambitious man is a man who wants other 
people to think he is great. The Judge knows he is great and doesn’t 
care what other people think.” 

I asked: “What about love?” 

I was perfectly sure that the Judge had had his innings, but I was 
also perfectly sure that nobody around the* Landing had anything 
on him in that respect. For if anybody in a small town has anything 
on anybody it isn’t long before everybody knows it. 

I asked: “Is the Judge a man to scare easy?” 

I answered: “He does not scare easy.” 

That left money. 

So I asked: “Does the Judge love money?” 

“All the money the Judge wants is just enough money to make 
the Judge happy.” 

I asked: “Was there ever a time when the Judge didn’t have 
enough money to make the Judge happy?” But naturally that 
wouldn’t be chicken feed. 

I lighted another cigarette and turned that question over in my 
mind. I did not know the answer. Some voice out of my childhood 

205 



whispered, but I could not catch what it said. I had the vague 
sense, rising from a depth of time, and of myself, of being a child, 
of entering the room where the grown people were, of knov;ing 
that they had just that instant stopped talking because I had come 
into the room and was not supposed to know what they were talk- 
ing about. Had I overheard what they had been talking about? 
I listened for the voice whispering out of my childhood, but that 
voice was a long way off. It could not give me the answer. So I rose 
from the table, and left the empty beer bottles .and the cigarette 
butts, and went out into the street, which still steamed from the 
late afternoon shower like a Turkish bath, and where now the 
tires of automobiles hissed hotly through the film of moisture on 
the asphalt. If we were lucky there might be a breeze off the Gulf 
later. If we were lucky. 

I got a taxi finally, and said, “Corner South Fifth and Saint- 
Etienne Street,” and fell back on the leather to listen to the tires 
hiss through the wetness like something frying in a skillet. I was 
riding to the answer about the Judge. If the man who had the 
answer would tell me. 

The man was the man who had been the Judge’s close friend for 
many a year, his other self, his Damon, his Jonathan, his brother. 
That man was the man who had been the Scholarly Attorney. He 
would know. 

I stood on the pavement, in front of the Mexican restaurant, 
where the juke box made the jellylike air palpitate, and paid my 
taxi and turned to look up at the third floor of the building which 
vibrated around the juke box. The signs were still up there, hung 
by wire from the little iron balcony, nailed to the wall, wooden 
boards painted different colors, some white, some red, some black, 
some green, with lettering in contrasted colors. A big sign hanging 
from the balcony said: God is not mocked. Another sign said: Now 
is the Day of Salvation, 

Yeah, I said to myself, he still lives here. He lived there above a 
spick restaurant, and nigger children played naked in the next 
block among starving cats, and nigger women sat on the steps after 
the sun got low and fanned right slow with palm-leaf fans. I reached 
for a cigarette as I prepared to enter the doorway of the stairs, but 
found I had none. So I went into the restaurant, where the juke 
box was grinding to a halt. 

To the old woman who stood behind the beer bar squatly like a 
keg and whose eyebrows were very thorny and white against the 
brown Mexican skin and black rebozo, 1 said, 'XigarrillosT* 

*'Que tipoV she asked. 


206 



“Lucky/* I said, and as she laid them before me, I pointed up 
ward, and asked, “The old man, is he upstairs?’* But she looked 
blank, so I said, **Esta arrtbu el vie jo?*" And felt pleased with my* 
self for getting it off. 

*‘Quien sabef** she replied. *'Viene y va"* 

So he came and went. Upon the Lord’s business. 

Then a voice said in tolerable English, front the shadows at the 
end of’ the bar, “The old man has gone out.** 

“Thank you,** I replied to the old man^ a Mexican, who was 
propped there in a chair. I turned back to the old woman, and 
said, “Give me a beer,** and pointed at the spigot. 

While I drank the beer I looked up above the counter and saw 
another one of the signs, painted on a big slab of plywood, or 
something of the sort, hanging from a nail. The background of 
the sign was bright red, there were blue scrolls of flowers in relief 
in the upper corners, the lettering was in black, high-lighted in 
white. It said: Repent ye; for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, 
Matty iiiy 2, 

I pointed to the sign. “De el?** I asked. “The old man’s, huh?” 

"'Si, sehor** the old woman said. Then added irrelevantly, "Es 
como un santitof* 

“He may be a saint,” I agreed, “but he is also nuts.” 

“Nutz?” 

**E$ loco,** I explained, "es nuts.” 

She said nothing to that, and I continued with the beer until the 
old Mexican at the end of the bar siiddenly said, “Look, here comes 
the old onel” 

Turning, I saw the black-clothed figure through the dingy glass 
of the door; then the door pushed open and he entered, older than 
I remembered, the white patches of hair hanging damply from 
under the old Panama hat, the steel-rimmed spectacles dangerously 
loose on the nose and the pale eyes behind, the shoulders stooped 
and drawn together as though pulled by the obscene, disjunctive, 
careful weight of the belly, as though it were the heavy tray, or 
satchel, worn by some hawker on a street corner. The black coat 
did not button across the belly. 

He stood there, blinking gravely at me, apparently not recog- 
nizing me, for he had come from the last sunshine into the dimness 
of the restaurant. 

“Good evening, sehor,** the old Mexican said to the Scholarly 
Attorney. 

""Buenos tardes,** the woman said. 

The Scholarly Attorney took off his Panama and turned to the 

207 



woman, and bowed slightly* with a motion of the head which 
stirred suddenly in my mind the picture of the long room in the 
white house by the sea, the picture of a man, the same but different, 
younger, the hair not gray, in that room. “Good evening,'' he said 
to the woman, and then turning to the old Mexican, repeated, 
“Good evening, sir." 

The old Mexican pointed at me, and said, “He waits." 

At that the Scholarly Attorney first, I believe, really observed me. 
But he did not recognize me, blinking at me in the dimness. Cer- 
tainly he had no reason to expect to find me there. 

“Hello," I said, “don't you know me?" 

“Yes,'' he said, and continued to peer at me. He offered me his 
hand, and I took it. It was clammy in my grasp. 

“Let's get out of here," I said. 

“Do you want the bread?" the old Mexican asked. 

The Scholarly Attorney turned to him. “Yes, thank you. If it is 
convenient." 

The Mexican rose, went to the end of the counter, and took a 
largish brown paper bag full of something, and handed it to the 
other. 

“Thank you," the Scholarly Attorney said, “thank you very much, 
sir." 

**De nada/* the Mexican said, bowing. 

“I wish you a good evening," the Scholarly Attorney said, and 
bowed to the man, then to the woman, with an inclination of the 
head which again twitched the old recollection in me of the room 
in the white house by the sea. 

Then I followed him out of the restaurant, into the street. Across 
the street lay the little park of trampled brown grass, now glistening 
with moisture, where the bums sat on benches and the pigeons 
cooed softly like an easy conscience and defecated in delicate little 
lime-white pinches on the cement around the fountain. I looked at 
the pigeons, then at the bulged-open bag, which, I observed, was 
full of bread austs. “Are you going to feed the pigeons?" I asked. 

“No, it is for George," be said, moving toward the doorway that 
led above. 

“You keeping a dog?" 

“No," he said, and led the way into the vestibule, and up the 
wooden stairs. 

“What is George, then? A parrot?" 

“No," he said, wheezily, for the stairs were steep, “George is an 
unfortunate.” 

That meant, I remembered, a bum. An unfortunate is a bum who 

208 



IS fortunate enough to get his foot inside a softy's door and stay 
there. If he gets a good berth he is promoted from bum to unfor- 
tunate. The Scholarly Attorney had, on several occasions betore, 
taken in unfortunates. One unfortunate had popped the organist 
down at tlie mission where the Scholarly Attorney operated. An- 
other unfortunate had lifted his watch and Phi Beta Kappa key. 

So George was another unfortunate. I looked at the bread, and 
said, ‘'Well, he must be pretty unfortunate if that’s what he’s got 
to eat.” 

“He eats some of it,” the Scholarly Attorney said, “but that is 
almost accidental. He uses it in his work. But some of it slips down, 
I am sure, and that is tvhy he is never hungry. Except for sweets,” 
he added. 

“How in God’s name does he use bread crusts in his work and 
the bread crusts slip down his throat?” 

“Do not take the name of the Lord in vain,” he said. And added, 
“George’s work, it’s very clever. And artistic. You will see.” 

I saw. We got to the top of the second flight, turned in the nar- 
row hall under the cracked skylight, and entered a door. There was 
what I took to be George, in one corner of the big, sparsely fur- 
nished room, sitting tailor-fashion on a piece of old blanket, with 
a couple of big mixing bowls in front of him, and a big piece of 
plywood about two feet by four lying on the floor by him. 

George looked up when we came in and said, “I ain’t got any 
more bread.” 

“Here it is,” the Scholarly Attorney said, and took the brown 
bag to him. 

George emptied the crusts into one of the bowls, then stuck a 
piece into his mouth and began to chew, soberly and purposively. 
He was a fair-sized, muscular man, with a hell of a strong-looking 
neck, and the tendons in his neck worked and pulled slickly while 
he chewed. He had yellow hair, almost gone, and a smooth, flat 
face with blue eyes. While he chewed he just looked straight ahead 
at a spot across the room. 

“What does he do that for?” I asked, 

“He’s making an angel.” 

“Well,” I said. And just then George leaned forward over one of 
the bowls and let the thoroughly masticated bread drop from his 
mouth into the bowl. Then he put another crust into his mouth. 

“There is one he has finished,” die Scholarly Attorney said, and 
pointed at another corner of the room, where another piece of ply- 
wood was propped up. I went to examine it. At one end, the figure 
of an angel, with wings and flowing drapery, had been executed in 

209 



bas-relief in what looked like putty. ‘‘That one is just drying/' the 
Scholarly Attorney said. “When it gets good and dry, he'll color it. 
Then he’ll shellac it. Then the board will be painted and a motto 
put on it." 

“Very pretty,'* I said. 

“He makes statues of angels, too. See,” and he went to a kitchen 
safe, and opened it, to expose a shelf of dishes and pots and another 
with an array of gaudy angels. 

I examined the angels. While I did so, the Scholarly Attorney 
took a can of soup, a loaf of bread, and some soft butter out of the 
safe, put them on the table in the center of the room, and lighted 
one of the burners on the two-burner plate in the corner. “Will you 
join me in my supper?” he asked. 

“No, thanks,” I said, and continued to stare at the angels. 

“He sometimes sells them on the street,” he said, pouring out his 
soup into a stewpan, “but he can't bear to sell the best ones.'* 

“Are these the best ones?” I asked. 

“Yes,” the Scholarly Attorney replied. And added, “They are 
pretty good, ai'en’t they?” 

I said, “Yes,” for there wasn’t anything else to say. Then, looking 
at the artist, asked, “Doesn't he make anything but angels? What 
about Kewpie dolls and bulldogs?” 

“He makes angels. Because of what happened.” 

“What happened?” 

“His wife,” the Scholarly Attorney said, stirring the soup in the 
s'tewpan. “On account of her he makes angels. They were in a circus, 
you know.” 

“No, I didn't know.” 

“Yes, they were what you call aerialists. She did the angel act. She 
had large white wings, George said.” 

“White wings,” George said through the bread, but it was a 
sound like wite whungs, and he fluttered his big hands like wings, 
and smiled. 

“She fell down a long way with white wings which fluttered as 
^ough she were flying,” the Scholarly Attorney continued, explain- 
ing patiently. 

“And one day the rope broke,” I af&rmed. 

“Something went wrong with the apparatus. It affected George 
very deeply.” 

“How about the way it affected her?” 

The old man ignored my wit, and said, “He got so he could not 
perform his act.” 

“What was his act?” 


210 



'*He was the man who got hanged.’* 

“Oh,” J said, and looked at George, That accounted for the big. 
neck, no doubt. Then, “Did the apparatus go wrong with him and 
choke him or something?” 

“No,” the Scholarly Attorney said, “the whole matter simply grew 
distasteful to him.” 

“Distasteful?” I said. 

“Yes, distasteful. Matters came to such a pass that he could not 
perform happily in his chosen profession. He dreamed of falling 
every time he went to sleep. And he would wet his bed like a child.” 

“Falling, falling,” George said through the bread, with a sound 
like jawing, jawing, but still smiled brightly in the midst of the 
chewing. 

“One day when he got up on his platform with the loop around 
his neck, he could not jump- In fact, he could not move at all. He 
sank down on the platform and crouched there weeping. They had 
to remove him bodily, and bring him down,” the Scholarly Attorney 
said. “Then for some time he was completely paralyzed,” 

“It sounds,” I said, “like that hanging act must have got pretty 
distasteful to him. As you so quaintly put it.” 

“He was completely paralyzed,” he repeated, ignoring my wit. 
“Through no physical cause— if— ” he paused— “anything ever comes 
to pass from a physical cause. For the physical world, though it 
exists and its existence cannot be denied without blasphemy, is 
never cause, it is only result, only symptom, it is the clay under the 
thumb of the potter and we—” He stopped, the gleam which had 
started up fitfully in the pale eyes flickered out, the hands which 
had lifted to gesticulate sank. He leaned above the gas plate and 
stirred the soup. He resumed, “The trouble was here,” and he laid 
a finger to his own forehead. “It was his spirit. Spirit is always cause 
—I tell you—” He stopped, shook his head, and peered at me before 
he said sadly, “But you do not understand.” 

“I reckon not,” I agreed. 

“He recovered from the paralysis,” he said. “But George is not 
exactly a well man. He cannot bear high places. He will not look 
out the window. He covers his eyes with his hands when I lead him 
downstairs to go on the street to sell his artistic work. So I take him 
down only rarely now. He will not sit on a chair or sleep in a bed. 
He must always be on the floor. He does not like to stand. His legs 
simply collapse and he begins to cry. It is fortunate he has always 
had this artistic bent. It helps him to take his mind off things. And 
he prays a good deal. I taught him to pray. That helps. I get up and 

211 



pray and he says the prayers after me. When he wakes at night with 
the dreams and cannot sleep.'' 

“Does he still wet the bed?" I asked. 

“Sometimes," the Scholarly Attorney replied gravely. 

I looked at George. He was weeping silendy, the tears running 
down his smooth, flat cheeks, but his jawbone was not missing a 
beat on the bread. “Look at him," I said. 

The Scholarly Attorney looked at him. “Stupid, stupid," he mut- 
tered fretfully, shaking his head, so that an additional flake or two 
of dandruff floated down to the black serge collar, “stupid of me to 
be talking that way with him listening. Stupid— Fm an old man and 
I forget—" and clucking and muttering and shaking his head in 
that same fretful fashion he poured some soup into a bowl, took a 
spoon, and went to George. “Look, look," he said, leaning, with a 
spoon of soup thrust toward George’s face, “good, it’s good soup— 
soup— take some soup." 

But the tears continued to flow out of George’s eyes, and he didn’t 
open his mouth. But the jaws weren’t working on the bread now. 
They were just shut tight. 

The old man set the bowl on the floor, and with one hand still 
holding the spoon to George’s mouth, with the other he patted 
George on the back soothingly, all the while clucking with that dis- 
traught, henlike, maternal little noise. All of a sudden he looked 
tip at me, the spectacles hanging over, and said, peevishly like a 
mother, “I just don’t know what to do— he just won’t take soup— he 
won’t eat much of anything but candy— chocolate candy— I just 
don’t know—" His voice trailed off. 

“Maybe you spoil him,’’ I said. 

He put the spoon back into the bowl, which was on the floor 
beside him, then began to fumble in his pockets. He fished out, 
finally, a bar of chocolate, somewhat wilted from the heat, and be- 
gan to peel back the sticky tinfoil. The last tears were running 
down George’s cheeks, while he watched the process, with his mouth 
open in damp and happy expectation. But he did not grab with 
his chubby little mitts. 

Then the old man broke off a piece of chocolate and placed it 
between the expectant lips, and peered into George’s face while 
taste buds, no doubt, glowed incandescent in the inner dark and 
glands with a tired, sweet, happy sigh released their juices, and 
George’s face took on an expression of slow, deep, inward, germinal 
bliss, like that of a saint. 

Well, I almost said to the old man, you said the physical was 
never cause, but a chocolate bar is physical and look what ifs cans- 

212 



ing, for to look at that face you might think it was a bite of Jesus 
and not a slug of Hevshey^s had done it. And how you going to tell 
the difference^ huh? 

But I didn't say it, for I was looking there at the old man, who 
was leaning over with his spectacles hanging and his coat hanging 
and his belly hanging from the leaning, and who was holding out 
another morsel of chocolate and who was clucking soft, and whose 
own face was happy, for that was the word for what his face was, 
and as I looked at him I suddenly saw the man in the long white 
room by the sea, the same man but a different man, and the rain 
of the squall driving in off the sea in the early dark lashed the win- 
dowpanes but it was a happy sound and safe because the fire danced 
on the hearth and on the windowpanes where the rain ran down 
to thread the night-black glass with silver, to mix the silver with the 
flames caught there, too, and the man leaned and held out something 
and said, ‘‘Here's what Daddy brought tonight, but just one bite 
now—” and the man broke off a piece and held it out— ‘‘just one 
bite, for your supper's near ready now— but after supper—” 

I looked at the old man over there and my guts went warm and 
a big lump seemed to dissolve in my chest— as though I had carried 
a big lump around in there for so long I had got used to it and 
didn't realize it had been there until suddenly it was gone and the 
breath came easy. “Father,” I said, “Father—” 

The old man looked up at me and said querulously, “What— 
what did you say?” 

Oh, father, father! but he wasn’t in the long white room by the 
sea any more and never would be, for he had walked out of it— 
why? why? because he wasn't enough of a man to run his own 
house, because he was a fool, because— and he had walked a long 
way and up the steps to this room where an old man leaned with 
the chocolate in his hand and happiness— if that was what it was— 
momentarily on his face. Only it wasn’t on his face now. There was 
just the faint peevishness of an old person who hasn't quite under- 
stood something said. 

But I had come a long way, too, from that long white room by 
the sea, I had got up off that hearthrug before the fire, where I had 
sat with my tin circus wagon and my colored crayons and paper, 
listening to the squall-driven rain on the glass, and where Daddy 
had leaned to say, “Here's what Daddy brought tonight,” and I had 
come to this room where Jack Burden leaned against the wall with 
a cigarette in his mouth. Nobody was leaning over him to give him 
chocolate. 

So, looking into the old man^s face, answering his querulous ques- 

21S 



tion, I said, "Oh, nothing." For that was what it was. Whateiyer 
had been was nothing now. For whatever was is not now, and what 
ever is will not be, and the foam that looks so sun-bright when the 
wind is kicking up the breakers lies streaked on the hard sand after 
the tide is out and looks like scum off the dishwater. 

But there was something: scum left on the hard sand So I said, 
"Yeah, there was something." 

"What?" 

"Tell me about Judge Irwin," I said. 

He straightened up to face me, blinking palely behind the spec* 
tacles as he had blinked at me upon coming from light into the 
darkness of the Mexican restaurant below. 

"Judge Irwin," I repeated, "you know—your old bosom pal." 

"That was anotlier time," he croaked, staring at me, holding the 
broken chocolate in his hand. 

"Sure, it was," I said, and looking at him now, thought, It sure- 
God was. And said, "Sure, but you remember." 

“That time is dead," he said. 

"Yeah, but you aren't." 

"The sinful man I was who reached for vanity and corruption is 
dead. If I sin now it is in weakness and not in will. I have put away 
foulness." 

"Listen," I said, "it's just a simple question. Just one question." 

"I have put it away, that time," he said, and made a pushing ges- 
ture with his hands. 

"Just one question," I insisted. 

He looked at me without speaking. 

"Listen," I said, "was Irwin ever broke, did he ever really need 
money? Bad?" 

He stared at me from a long way off, across the distance, beyond 
the bowl of soup on the floor, over the chocolate in his hand: 
through time. Then he demanded, "Why-r-why do you want tc 
know?" 

"To tell the truth," I burst out without meaning to, "I don't 
But somebody does, and that somebody pays me the first of the 
month. It is Governor Stark.” 

"Foulness,” he said, staring across whatever it was between us, 
"foulness." 

"Was Irwin ever broke?" I said. 

"Foulness," he affirmed. 

"Listen,” I said, "I don't reckon Governor Stark— if that is what 
all this foulness stuff is about— takes it to the Lord in prayer, but 
did you ever stop to think what a mess your fine, God-damned, 

214 



plug-hatted, church-going, Horace-quoting friends like Stanton and 
Irwin left this state in? At least the Boss does something, but they- 
they sat on their asses— they— 

“All foulnessi" the old man uttered, and swept his right arm 
wildly before him, the hand clutching the chocolate hard enough 
to squash it. A part of the chocolate fell to the floor. Baby got it. 

“If you meant to imply,’' I said, “that politics, including that o£ 
your erstwhile pals, is not exactly like Easter Week in a nunnery, 
you are right. But I will beat you to the metaphysical draw this 
time. Politics is action and all action is but a flaw in the perfection 
of inaction, which is peace, just as all being is but a flaw in the per* 
fection of nonbeing. Which is God. For if God is perfection and the 
only perfection is in nonbeing, then God is nonbeing. Then God is 
nothing. Nothing can give no basis for the criticism of Thing in its 
thingness. Then where do you get anything to say? Then where da 
you get off?” 

“Foolishness, foolishness,” he said, “foolishness and foulnessi” 

“I guess you are right,” I said. “It is foolishness. But it is no more 
foolish than all that kind of talk. Always words.” 

“You speak foulness.” 

“No, just words,” I said, “and all words are alike.” 

“God is not mocked,” he said, and I saw that his head was quiver- 
ing on his neck. 

'I stepped quickly toward him, stopping just in front of him^ 
“Was Irwin ever broke?” I demanded. 

He seemed about to say something, his lips opening. Then they 
closed. 

“Was he?” I demanded. 

“I will not touch the world of foulness again,” he said, his pale 
eyes looking steadily upward into my face, “that my hand shall 
come away with the stink on my fingers.” 

I felt like grabbing him and shaking him till his teeth rattled. I 
felt like shaking it out of him. But you can’t grab an old man and 
do that. I had gone at the whole thing wrong. I ought to have led 
up to it and tried to trick him. I ought to have wheedled him. But 
I always got so keyed up and bn edge when I got around him that I 
couldn’t think of anything but getting away from him. And then 
when I had left I always felt worse until I got him out of my mind^ 
I had muffed it. 

That was all I got. As I was going out, I looked back to see Baby, 
who had finished the piece of chocolate dropped by the old man, 
meditatively moving his hand about on the floor to locate any stray 

215 



crumbs. Then the old man leaned slowly and heavily toward him, 
again. 

Going down the stairs, I decided that even if I had tried to 
wheedle the old man I would probably have learned nothing. It 
wasn't that I had gone at it wrong. It wasn’t that I burst out about 
Governor Stark. What did he know or care about Governor Stark? 
It was that I had asked him about the world of the past, which he 
had walked away from. That w^orld and all the world was foulness, 
he had said, and he was not going to touch it. He was not going to 
talk about it, and I couldn’t have made him. 

But I got one thing. I was sure that he had known something. 
Which meant that there was something to know. Well, I would 
know it. Sooner or later. So I left the Scholarly Attorney and the 
world of the past and returned to the world of the present. 

Which was: 

An oblong field where white lines mathematically gridded the 
turf which was arsenical green under the light from the great bat- 
teries of fioodlamps fixed high on the parapet of the massive arena. 
Above tlie field the swollen palpitating tangle of light frayed and 
thinned out into hot darkness, but the thirty thousand pairs of eyes 
hanging on the inner slopes of the arena did not look up into the 
dark but stared down into the pit of light, where men in red silky- 
glittering shorts and gold helmets hurled themselves against men in 
blue silky-glittering shorts and gold helmets and spilled and tum- 
bled on the bright arsenical-green turf like spilled dolls, and a 
whistle sliced chillingly through the thick air like that scimitar 
through a sofa cushioa 

Which was: 

The band blaring, the roaring like the sea, the screams like 
agony, the silence, then one woman-scream, silver and soprano, 
spangling the silence like the cry of a lost soul, and the roar again 
so that the hot air seemed to heave. For out of the shock and tangle 
and glitter on the green a red fragment had exploded outward, 
flung off from the mass tangentially to spin across the green, turn 
and wheel and race, yet slow in the out-of-timeness of the moment, 
under the awful responsibility of the roar. 

Which was: 

A man pounding me on the back and screaming~a man with a 
heavy face and coarse dark hair hanging over his forehead— scream- 
ing, “That’s my boy! That’s Tom— Tom— TomI That’s him— and 
he’s won— they won’t have time for a touchdown now— he’s won— 
his first varsity game and it’s Tom won— it’s my boy!” And the man 
pounded me on the back and grappled me to him with both arms, 

216 



powerful arms, and hugged me like his brother, his true love, his 
son, while tears came into his eyes and tears and sweat ran down 
the heavy cheeks, and he screamed, “He^s my boy-and there’s not 
any like him—he’ll be All American— and Lucy wants me to stop 
him playing— my wife wants him to stop— says it’s ruining him— 
ruining him, hell— he’ll be All American— boy, did you see him— fast 
—fast— he’s a fast son-of-a-bitchl Ain’t he, ain't he?" 

"Yes,” I said, and it was true. 

He was fast and he was a son-of-a-bitch. At least, if he wasn’t a 
son-of-a-bitch yet, he had shown some very convincing talent in that 
line. You couldn't much blame Lucy for wanting to stop the foot- 
ball— his name always on the sporting page— the pictures— the Fresh- 
man Whiz— the Sophomore Thunderbolt— the cheers— the big fat 
hands always slapping his shoulder— Tiny Duffy’s hand on his shoul- 
der— yeah, Boss, he’s a chip off the old block-the roadhouses-the 
thin-legged, tight-breasted little girls squealing, Oh, Tom, oh, Tom 
—the bottles and the tourist cabins— the sea-roar of the crowd and al- 
ways the single woman-scream spangling the sudden silence like 
damnation. 

But Lucy did not have a chance. For he was going to be All 
American. All American quarterback on anybody’s team. If bottle 
and bed didn't manage to slow down too soon something inside that 
one hundred and eighty pounds of split-second, hair-trigger, Swiss- 
watch beautiful mechanism which was Tom Stark, the Boss's boy, 
the Sophomore Thunderbolt, Daddy’s Darling, who stood that 
night in the middle of a hotel room, with a piece of court plaster 
across his nose and a cocky grin on his fine, clean, boyish face— for 
it was fine and clean and boyish— while all the hands of Papa’s pals 
pawed at him and beat his shoulders, while Tiny Duffy slapped him 
on the shoulder, and Sadie Burke, who sat a little outside the gen- 
eral excitement in her own private fog of cigarette smoke and 
whisky fumes, a not entirely unambiguous expression on her rid- 
dled, handsome face, said, "Yeah, Tom, somebody was telling me 
you played a football game tonight.” 

But her irony was not the sort of thing Tom Stark would hear or 
understand, for he stood there in the midst of his own gleaming 
golden private fog of just being Tom Stark, who had played in a 
football game. 

Until the Boss said, "Now you go on and get to bed. Son. Get 
your sleep. Son. Get ready to pour it on 'em next Saturday.” And 
he laid his arm across the boy’s shoulder, and said, "We're all 
mighty proud of you, boy.” 


217 



And I said to myself: If he gets his eyes starry with tears again I 
am going to puke, 

“Go on to bed, Son,” the Boss said. 

And Tom Stark said, “Sure,” almost out of the side of his mouth, 
and went out the door. 

And I stood there in what was the present. 

But there was the past. There was the question. There was the 
dead kitty buried in the ash heap. 

So I stood, later, in the embrasure of a big bay window and 
looked out as the last light ceased to gleam from die metallic leaves 
of magnolias and the creamy wash of the sea beyond dulled in the 
thickening dusk. Behind me was a room not very different from 
that other long white room giving on the sea— where now, at this 
moment perhaps, my mother would be lifting to the taffy-haired 
Young Executive that face which was still like a damned expensive 
present and which he had damned well better admire. But in the 
room behind me, scarcely lighted by the stub of a candle on the 
mounted shelf, the furniture was shrouded in white cloth, and the 
grandfather’s clock in the corner was as severely mute as grand- 
father. But ‘I knew that when I turned around there would also be, 
in the midst of the sepulchral sheetings and the out-of-time silence, 
a woman kneeling before the cold blackness of the wide fireplace 
to put pine cones and bits of light-wood beneath the logs there. She 
had said, “No, let me do it. It’s my house, you know, and I ought 
to light the fire when I come back like this. You know, a ritual. I 
want to. Adam always lets me do it. When we come back.” 

For the woman was Anne Stanton, and this v;as the house of 
Governor Stanton, whose face, marmoreal and unperturbed and 
high, above black square beard and black frock coat, gazed down in 
the candlelight from the massy gold frame above the fireplace, 
where his daughter crouched, as though at his feet, rasping a match 
to light a fire there. Well, I had been in this room when the Gover- 
nor had not been the marmoreal brow in the massy gold frame but 
a tall man sitting with his feet on the hearthrug witli a little girl, a 
child, on a hassock at his feet, leaning her head against his knee and 
gazing into the fire while his large man hand toyed deliciously with 
the loose, silken hair. But I was here now because Anne Stanton, 
no longer a little girl, had said, “Come on out to the Landing, we’re 
just going back for Saturday night and Sunday, just to build a fire 
and eat something out of a can and sleep under the roof again. It’s 
all the time Adam can spare. And he can’t spare that much often 
now.” So I had come, carrying my question. 

I heard the match rasp, and turned from the sea, which was dark 

218 



now. The flame had caught the fat of the light-wood and was leap- 
ing up and spewing little stars like Christmas sparklers, and the 
light danced warmly on Anne Stanton’s leaning face and then on 
her throat and cheek as, still crouching, she looked up at me when 
I approached the hearth. Her eyes were glittering hke the eyes of 
a child when you give a nice surprise, and she laughed in a sud- 
den throaty, tingling way. It is the way a woman laughs for happi- 
ness. They never laugh that way just when they are being polite 
or at a joke. A woman only laughs that way a few times in her life. 
A woman only laughs that way when something has touched her 
way down in the very quick of her being and the happiness just 
wells out as natural as breath and the first jonquils and mountain 
brooks. When a woman laughs that way it always does something 
to you. It does not matter what kind of a face she has got either. 
You hear that laugh and feel that you have grasped a clean and 
beautiful truth. You feel that way because that laugh is a revela- 
tion. It is a great impersonal sincerity. It is a spray of dewy blossom 
from the great central stalk of All Being, and the woman’s name 
and address hasn’t got a damn thing to do with it. Therefore, that 
laugh cannot be faked. If a woman could learn to fake it she would 
make Nell Gwyn and Pompadour look like a couple of Campfire 
Girls wearing bifocals and ground-gripper shoes and with bands on 
their teeth. She could set all society by the ears. For all any man 
really wants is to hear a woman laugh like that. 

So Anne looked up at me with the glittering eyes and laughed 
that way while the firelight glowed on her cheek. Then I laughed, 
too, looking down at her. She reached up her hand to me, and 1 
took it and helped her as she rose easy and supple— God, how I hate 
a woman who scrambles up off things— and I still held her hand as 
she swayed at the instant of reaching her full height. She was very 
close to me, with the laughter still on her face— and echoing some- 
how deep inside me— and I was holding her hand, as I had held it 
a long time back, fifteen years back, twenty years back, to help her 
up to stand swaying for an instant in front of me before I could put 
my arm around her and feel her waist surrender supplely to the cup 
of my hand. It had been that way. So now I must have leaned 
toward her and for an instant the trace of the laughter was still on 
her face, and her head dropped a little back the way a girl’s head 
does when she expects you to put your arm around her and doesn’t 
care if you do. 

But all at once the laughter was gone. It was as though someone 
had pulled a shade down in front of her face. I felt as you do when 
you pass down a dark street and look up to see a lighted window 

219 



and in the bright room people talking and singing and laughing 
with the firelight splashing and undulating over them and the 
sound of the music drifts out to the street while you watch; and 
then a hand, you will never know whose hand, pulls down the 
shade. And there you are, outside. 

And there I was, outside. 

Maybe I should have done it anyway, put my arm around her. 
But I didn’t. She had looked up at me and had laughed that way. 
But not for me. Because she was happy to be there again in the 
room which held the past time— of which I had been a part, indeed, 
but was no longer a part— and to be kneeling on the hearth with 
the new heat of the fire laid on her face like a hand. 

It had not been meant for me. So I dropped her hand which I 
had been holding and stepped back and asked, “Was Judge Irwin 
ever broke— bad broke?" 

I asked it quick and sharp, for if you ask something quick and 
sharp out of a clear sky you may get an answer you never would 
get otherwise. If the person you ask has forgotten the thing, the 
quick, sharp question may spear it up from the deep mud, and if 
the person has not forgotten but does not want to tell you, the 
quick, sharp question may surprise the answer out of him before he 
thinks. 

But it didn’t work. Eitlier she didn’t know or she wasn’t to be 
surprised out of herself. I ought to have guessed that a person like 
her— a person who you could tell had a deep inner certitude of self 
which comes from being all of one piece, of not being shreds and 
patches and old cogwheels held together with pieces of rusty barbed 
wire and spit and bits of string, like most of us— I ought to have 
guessed that that kind of a person would not be surprised into 
answering a question she didn’t want to answer. Even if she did 
know the answer. But maybe she didn’t. 

But she was surprised a little. “What?" she asked. 

So I said it again. 

She turned her back to me and went to sit on the couch, to light 
a cigarette and face me again, looking levelly at me. “Why do you 
want to know?" she asked. 

I looked right back at her and said, “I don’t want to know. It is 
a pal wants to know. He is my best pal. He hands it to me on the 
first of the month." 

“Oh, Jack—’’ she cried, and flung her newly lit cigarette across to 
the hearth, and stood up from the couch. “Oh, why do you have to 
spoil everything! We had that time back there. But you want to 
spoil it. We—" 


220 



“We?” I said. 

“—had something then and you want to spoil it, you want to help 
him spoil it— that man— he— ” 

“We?” I said again. 

“—wants to do something bad—** 

“We,** I said, “i£ we had such a damned fine time why was it you 
turned me down?** 

“That hasn*t anything to do with it. What I mean is—** 

“What you mean is that it was a fine, beautiful time back then, 
but I mean that if it was such a God-damned fine, beautiful time, 
why did it turn into this time which is not so damned fine and 
beautiful if there wasn’t something in that time which wasn’t fine 
and beautiful? Answer that one.** 

“Hush,** she said, “hush, Jackl** 

“Yeah, answer me that one. For you certainly aren't going to say 
this time is fine and beautiful. This time came out of that time, and 
now you’re near thirty-five years old and you creep out here as a 
special treat to yourself and sit in the middle of a lot of sheet- 
wrapped, dust-catching furniture in a house with the electricity cut 
off, and Adam— he’s got a hell of a life, cutting on people all day till 
he can’t stand up, and him tied up in knots himself inside and—*' 
“Leave Adam out of it, leave him out—*’ she said, and thrust her 
hands, palms out as though to press me off, but I wasn’t in ten feet 
of her— “he does something anyway— something— ” 

“—and Irwin down there playing with his toys, and my mother up 
there with that Theodore, and me—** 

“Yes, you,** she said, “you.** 

“All right,” I said, “me.” 

“Yes, you. With that man,” 

“That man, that man,” I mimicked, “that’s what all the people 
round here call him, what that Patton calls him, all those people 
who got pushed out of the trough. Well, he does something. He 
does as much as Adam. More. He’s going to build a medical center 
will take care of this state. He’s—” 

“I know,” she said, wearily, not looking at me now, and sank 
down on the couch, which was covered by a sheet. 

“You know, but you take the same snobbish attitude all the rest 
take. You’re like the rest.” 

“All ri^t,” she said, still not looking at me. “I’m snobbish, I’m 
so snobbish I had lunch with him last week.” 

Well, if grandfather’s clock in the comer hadn’t been stopped al* 
ready, that would have stopped it. It stopped me. I heard the flame 

221 



hum on the logs, gnawing in. Then the hum stopped and there 
wasn’t anything. 

Then I said, “For Christ’s sake.” And the absorbent silence 
sucked up the words like blotting paper. 

“All right,” she said, “for Christ's sake.” 

“My, my,” I said, “but the picture of the daughter of Governor 
Stanton at lunch with Governor Stark would certainly throw the 
society editor of the Chronicle into a tizzy. Your frock, my dear— 
what frock did you wear? And flowers? Did you drink champagne 
cocktails? Did—” 

“I drank a Coca Cola, and I ate a cheese sandwich. In the cafe- 
teria in the basement of the Capitol.” 

“Pardon my curiosity, but—” 

“—but you want to know how I got there. I'll tell you. I went to 
see Governor Stark about getting state money for the Children’s 
Home. And I—” 

“Does Adam know?” I asked. 

“—and I’m going to get it, too. I’m to prepare a detailed report 
and—” 

“Does Adam know?” 

“It doesn’t matter whether Adam knows or not— and I’m to take 
the report back to—” 

“I can imagine what Adam would say,” I remarked grimly. 

“I guess I can manage my own affairs,” she said with some heat. 

“Gee,” I said, and noticed that the blood had mounted a little in 
her cheeks, “I thought you and Adam were always just like that.” 
And I held my right hand up with forefinger and the next one side 
by side. 

“We are,” she said, “but I don’t care v/hat— ” 

“—and you don’t care what he—” and I jerked a thumb toward 
the high,* unperturbed, marmoreal face which gazed from the massy 
gold frame in the shadow— “would say about it either, huh?” 

“Oh, Jack—” and she rose from the couch, almost fretful in her 
motion, which wasn’t like her— “what makes you talk like that? 
Can’t you see? I’m just getting the money for the Home. It’s a piece 
of business. Just business.” She jerked her chin up with a look that 
was supposed to settle the matter, but succeeded in unsettling me. 

“Listen,” I said, and felt myself getting hot under the collar, 
^‘business or not, it’s worth your reputation to be caught running 
round with—” 

“Running round, running roundl” she exclaimed. “Don’t be a 
fool. I had lunch with him. On business.” 

222 



•‘Business or not, it's worth your reputation, and—’* 

“Reputation," she said. “I’m old enough to take care o£ my repu* 
tation. You just told me I was nearly senile.” 

“I said you were nearly thirty-five," I said, factually. 

“Oh, Jack,” she said, “I am, and I haven't done anything. I don't 
do anything. Not anything worth anything.” She wavered there 
and with a hint of distraction lifted her hands to touch her hair. 
"‘Not anything. I don't want to play bridge all the time. And what 
little I do— that Home, the playground thing—" 

“There's always the Junior League,” I said. But she ignored it. 
“—that's not enough. Why didn't I do something— study some- 
thing? Be a doctor, a nurse. I could have been Adam's assistant. I 
could have studied landscape gardening. I could have—" 

“You could make lampshades,” I said. 

“I could have done something— something— " 

“You could have got married,” I said. “You could have mar- 
ried me.” 

“Oh, I don't mean just getting married, I mean—" 

“You don’t know what you mean," I said. 

“Oh, Jack," she said, and reached out and took my hand and 
hung on to it, “maybe I don't. I don't know what's wrong with me 
tonight. When I come out here sometimes— I'm happy when I come, 
I truly am, but then—” 

She didn't say any more about it. By this time she had sunk her 
head to my chest, and I had given her a few comforting pats on the 
shoulder, and she had said in a muffled sort of way that I had to be 
her friend, and I had said, “Sure,” and had caught some good whiffs 
of the way her hair smelled. It smelled just the way it always had, 
a good, clean, well-washed, little-girl-ready-for-a-party smell. But she 
wasn't a little girl and this wasn't a party. It definitely was not a 
party. With pink ice cream and devil’s-food cake and horns to blow 
and we all played clap-in-and-clap-out and the game in which you 
sang about King William being King James's son and down on this 
carpet you must kneel sure as the grass grows in the field and choose 
the one you love best. 

She stood there for a minute or two with her head on my chest, 
and you could have seen daylight between her and her friend, if 
there had been any daylight, while her friend gave her the imper- 
sonal and therapeutic pats on the shoulder. Then she walked away 
from him and stood by the hearth, looking down at the fire, whicti 
was doing fine now and making the room look what is called real 
homey. 

Then the front door swung open and the wind off the cold sea 

22S 



whipped into the room like a great dog shaking itself and the fire 
leaped. It was Adam Stanton coming into that homey atmosphere. 
He had an armful of packages, for he had been down into the 
Landing to get our provisions. 

“Hello,” he said over the packages, and smiled out of that wide, 
thin, firm mouth which in repose looked like a clean, well-healed 
surgical wound but which when he smiled—if he smiled—surprised 
you and made you feel warm. 

“Look here,” I said quick, “way back yonder, any time, was Judge 
Irwin ever broke? Bad broke?” 

“Why, no-~I don't know—” he began, his face shading. 

Anne swung round to look at him, and then sharply at me. I 
thought for an instant she was about to say something. But she 
didn’t. 

“Why, yesi” Adam said, standing there, still hugging the parcels. 

I had speared it up from the deep mud. 

“Why, yes,” he repeated, with the pleased bright look on his face 
which people get when they dredge up any lost thing from the past, 
“yes, let me see— I was just a kid— about 1913 or 1914— I remember 
father saying something about it to Uncle John or somebody, before 
he remembered I was in tlie room— then the Judge was here and he 
and father— I thought they were having a row, their voices got so 
high— they were talking about money.” 

“Thanks,” I said. 

“Welcome,” he said, with a slightly puzzled smile on his face, and 
moved to the couch to let the parcels cascade to the safe softness. 

“Well,” Anne said, looking at me, “you might at least have the 
grace to tell him why you asked the question.” 

“Sure,” I said. And 1 turned to Adam: “I wanted to find out for 
Governor Stark.” 

“Politics,” he said, and the jaw closed like a trap. 

“Yes, politics,” Anne said, smiling a little soiurly. 

“Well, thank God, I don’t have to mess with ’em,” Adam said. 
“Nowadays, anyway.” But he said it almost lightly. Which surprised 
me. Then added, “What the hell if Stark knows about the Judge 
being broke. It was more than twenty years ago. And there’s no 
law against being broke. What the hell.” 

“Yeah, what the hell,” Anne said, and looking at me, gave that 
not unsour smile. 

“And what the hell are you doing?” Adam demanded laughing, 
and grabbed her by the arm and shook her. “Standing there when 
the grub needs cooking. Get the lead out, Sour-puss, and get goingl” 
He shoved her toward the couch, where the packages were heaped 

224 



She bent to scoop up a lot of packages, and he whacked her 
aaoss the backsides, and said, “Get going!” And laughed. And she 
laughed, too, with pleasure, and everything was forgotten, for it 
wasn’t often that Adam opened up and laughed a lot, and then he 
could be free and gay, and you knew you would have a wonderful 
time. 

We had a wonderful time. While Anne cooked, and I fixed drinks 
and set the table, Adam snatched the sheet off the piano (they kept 
the thing in tune out there and it wasn’t a bad one even yet) and 
beat hell out of it till the house bulged and rocked. He even took 
three good highballs before dinner instead of one. Then we ate, and 
he beat on the piano some more, playing stuff like “Roses Are 
Blooming in Picardy” and “Three O’Clock in the Morning,” while 
Anne and I danced and cavorted, or he would mush it up and Anne 
would hum in my ear and we would sway sweet and slow like young 
poplars in the slightest breeze. Then he jumped up from the piano 
bench and whistling “Beautiful Lady,” snatched her out of my arms 
and swung her wide in a barrel-house waltz while she leaned back 
on his arm with her head back and eyes closed for a swoon, and 
with right arm outstretched, held delicately the hem of her flutter- 
ing skirt. 

But Adam was a good dancer, even clowning. It was because he 
was a natural, for he never got any practice any more. And never 
had taken his share. Not of anything except work. And he could 
have had them crawling to him and asking for it. And once in 
about five years he would break out in a kind of wild, free, ex- 
uberant gaiety like a levee break streaming out to snatch the 
trees and brush up by the roots, and you would be the trees and 
brush. You and everybody around him. His eyes would gleam wild 
and he would gesture wide with an excess of energy bursting from 
deep inside. You would think of a great turbine or dynamo making 
a million revs a minute and boiling out the power and about to 
jump loose from its moorings. When he gestured with those strong, 
long, supple white hands, it was a mixture of Svengali and an atom- 
busting machine. You expected to see blue sparks. When he got like 
that they wouldn’t have had the strength to crawl to him and ask 
for it. They would just be ready to fall back and roll over where 
they were. Only it didn’t do them any good. 

But that didn’t come often. And didn’t last long. The cold would 
settle down and the lid would go on right quick. 

Adam didn’t have, the power on that night. He was just ready to 
smile and laugh and joke and beat the piano and swing his sister 
in the barrel-house waltz while the fire leaped on the big hearth and 

225 



the high face gazed down from the massy gold frame and the wind 
moved in off the sea and in the dark outside clashed the magnolia 
leaves. 

Not that in that room, with the fire crackling and the music, we 
heard the tiny clashing of the magnolia leaves the wind made. I 
heard it later, in bed upstairs in the dark, through the open win* 
dow, the tiny dry clashing of the leaves, and thought. Were we 
happy tonight because we were happy or because once, a long time 
back, we had been happy? Was our happiness tonight like the light 
of the moon, which does not come from the moon, for the moon Is 
cold and has no light of its own, but is reflected light from far 
away? I turned that notion around in my head and tried to make 
a nice tidy little metaphor out of it, but the metaphor wouldn’t 
work out, for you have to be the cold, dead, wandering moon, and 
you have to have beeii the sun, too, way back, and how the hell can 
you be both the sun and the moon? It was not consistent. It was not 
tidy. To hell with it, I thought, listening to the leaves. 

Then thought. Well, anyway, I know now Irwin was broke, 

I had dug that much up out of the past, and tomorrow I would 
leave Burden’s Landing and the past, and go back to the present. 
So I went back to the present. 

Which was: 

Tiny Duffy sitting in a great soft leather chair with his great soft 
hams flowing over the leather, and his great soft belly flowing over 
his great soft hams, and a long cigarette holder with a burning 
cigarette stuck jauntily out from one side of his face (the cigarette 
holder was a recent innovation, imitated from a gentleman who was 
the most prominent member of the political party to which Tiny 
Duffy gave his allegiance) and his great soft face flowing down over 
his collar, and a diamond ring on his finger, big as a walnut— for all 
of that was Tiny Duffy, who was not credible but true and who had 
obviously consulted the cartoons by Harpers Weekly in the files of 
the 'nineties to discover exactly what the successful politician should 
be, do, and wear. 

Which was: 

Tiny Duffy saying, “Jesus, and the Boss gonna put six million 
bucks in a hospital— six million bucks.’’ And lying back in the chair, 
eyes dreamily on the coffered ceiling, head wreathed in the baby- 
blue smoke from the cigarette, murmuring dreamily, “Six million 
bucks.’’ 

And Sadie Burke saying, “Yeah, six million bucks, and he ain’t 
planning for you to get your fingers on a penny of it.’’ 

“I could fix it up for him in the Fourth District. MacMurfee still 

226 



got it sewed up down there. Him and Gummy Larson. But throw 
that hospital contract to Gummy and—’* 

'’And Gummy would sell out MacMurfee. Is that it?” 

"Well, now-I wouldn’t put it that way. Gummy’d sort of talk 
reason into MacMurfee, you might say.” 

“And would sort of slip you a slice. Is that it. Tiny?” 

“I ain’t talking about me. I’m talking about Gummy, He’d han- 
dle MacMurfee for the Boss.” 

“The Boss don’t need anybody to handle MacMurfee. He’ll han- 
dle MacMurfee when the time comes and it will be permanent. For 
God’s sake. Tiny, you known the Boss as long as you have and you 
still don’t know him. Don’t you know he’d rather bust a man than 
buy him? Wouldn’t he, Jack?” 

“How do I know?” I said. But I did know. 

At least, I knew that the Boss was out to bust a man named Judge 
Irwin. And I was elected to do the digging. 

So I went back to the digging. 

But the next day, before I got back at the digging, a call came 
from Anne Stanton. “Smarty,” she said, “smarty, you thought you 
were so smart!” ® 

I heard her laughing, way off somewhere at the end of the line, 
but the tingling came over the wire, and I thought of her face 
laughing. 

“Yes, smarty! you found out from Adam how Judge Irwin was 
broke a long time ago, but I’ve found out something too!” 

“Yeah?’*T said. 

“Yeah, smarty! I went to see old Cousin Mathilde, who knows 
every diing about everybody for a hundred years back. I just got to 
talking about Judge Irwin and she began to talk. You just mention 
something and it is like putting a nickel in a music box. Yes, Judge 
Irwin was broke, or near it, then, but— and the joke’s on you, 
Jackie-boy, it’s on you, smarty-boyl And on your Boss!” And there 
was the laughter again, coming from far away, coming out of the 
little black tube in my hand, 

“Yeah?” I said. 

“Then he got married!” she said. 

“Who?” I asked. 

“Who are we talking about, smarty? Judge Irwin got married.” 

“Sure, he was married. Everybody knew he was married, but what 
the hell has that—” 

“He married money. Cousin Mathilde says so, and she knows 
everything. He was broke but he married money. Now, smarty, put 
that in your pipe and smoke it!” 

227 



'Thanks/’ I said. But before it was out of my mouth, I heard a 
clicking sound and she had hung up, 

I lighted a cigarette and leaned back in the swivel chair, and 
swung my feet up to tlie desk. Sure, everybody knew, or had known, 
that Judge Irwin was married. Judge Irwin, in fict, had been mar- 
ried twice. The first woman, the woman he was married to when 
I was a little boy, had been thrown from a horse and couldn’t do 
more than lie up in bed and stare at the ceiling or, on her good 
days, out the window. But she had died when I was just a kid, and 
I scarcely remembered her. But you almost forgot the other wife, 
too. She was from far away— I tried to remember how she looked. I 
had seen her several times, all right. But a kid of fifteen or so 
doesn’t pay much attention to a grown woman. I called up an 
image of a dark, tliin woman, with big dark eyes, wearing a long 
white dress and carrying a white parasol. Maybe it wasn’t the right 
image, at all. Maybe it was somebody else who had been married 
to Judge Irwin, and had come to Burden’s Landing, and had re- 
ceived all the curious, smiling ladies in Judge Irwin’s long white 
house, and had been aware of the eyes and the sudden silence for 
attention and then the new sibilance as she walked down the aisle 
in St. Matthew’s just before the services began, and had fallen sick 
and had lived with a Negro nurse in an upstairs room for so long 
that people forgot about her very existence and were surprised 
when the funeral came to remind them of the fact that she had 
existed. But after the funeral there was nothing to remind them, 
for the body had gone back to whatever place it was she came from, 
and not even a chiseled name was left in the Irwin plot in the St, 
Matthew’s graveyard, under the oaks and the sad poetic festoons of 
Spanish moss, which were garlanded on the boughs as though to 
prepare for the festivities of ghosts. 

The Judge had had bad luck with his wives, and people felt 
sorry for him. Both of them sickly for a long time and then had 
died on his hands. He got a lot of sympathy for that. 

But this second wife, I was told, was rich. That explained why 
the face I called up was not pretty— not the kind of face you would 
expect to find on Judge Irwin’s wife— but a sallowish, thin face, not 
even young, with only the big dark eyes to recommend it. 

So she had been rich, and that disposed of my notion that back 
in 1913 or 1914 the Judge had been broke and had stepped over the 
line. And that made Anne Stanton happy. Happy because now 
Adam hadn’t played, even unwittingly, stool pigeon to the Boss. 
Well, if it made her happy, it made me happy too, I reckoned. And 
maybe she was happy to think, too, that Judge Irwin was innocent 

228 



Well, tliat would have made me happy too. All I was doing was 
trying to prove Judge Irwin innocent. I would be able, sooner or 
later, to go to the Boss and say, “No sale. Boss. He is washed in the 
Blood." 

“The son-of-a-bitch is washed in whitewash," the Boss would say. 
But he*d have to take my word. For he knew I was thorough. I was 
a very thorough and well-trained research student. And truth was 
what I sought, without fear or favor. And let the chips fly. 

Anyway, I could cross 1913 oflE the ticket. Anne Stanton had set- 
tled that. 

Or had she? 

When you are looking for the lost will in the old mansion, you 
tap, inch by inch, along the beautiful mahogany wainscoting, or 
along the massive stonework of the cellarage, and listen for the hoi* 
low sound. Then upon hearing it, you seek the secret button or 
insert the crowbar. I had tapped and had heard something hollow. 
Judge Irwin had been broke. “But, oh, no,” Anne Stanton had said, 
“there is no secret hiding place there, that’s just where the dumb- 
waiter goes." 

But I tapped again. Just to listen to that hollow sound, even if it 
was just the place where the dumb-waiter went. 

I asked myself: If a man needs money, where does he get it? And 
the answer is easy: He borrows it. And if he borrows it, he has to 
give security. What would Judge Irwin have given as security? Most 
likely his house in Burden’s Landing or his plantation up the river. 

If it was big dough he needed, it would be the plantation. So I 
got in my car and headed up the river for Mortonville, which is the 
county seat of La Salle County, a big chunk of which is the old 
Irwin plantation where the' cotton grows white as whipped cream 
and the happy darkies sing all day, like A 1 Jolson. 

In the courthouse at Mortonville, I got hold of the abstract on 
the Irwin place. There it was, from the eighteenth-century Spanish 
grant to the present moment. And in 1907, there was the entry: 
Mortgage, Montague Irwin to Mortonville Mercantile Bank, $42,000, 
due January i, ipio. Late in January, 1910, a chunk had been paid, 
about $12,000 and the mortgage redrawn. By the middle of 1912, 
interest payments were being passed. In March, 1914, foreclosure 
proceedings had been instituted. But the Judge had been saved by 
the bell. In early May there was an entry for the satisfaction of the 
mortgage in full. No further entries were on the abstract. 

I had tapped again, and there was the hollow sound. When a 
man is broke there is always a hollow sound, like the tomb. 

But he had married a rich wife. 

229 



But was she rich? 

I had only the word of old Cousin Mathilde for that. And the 
evidence of Mrs. Irwin’s sallow face. I decided to put in the crow- 
bar. 

I would check the date of marriage with the dates on the abstract 
That might tell something. But whatever that said, I would put in 
the crowbar. 

I knew nothing about Mrs. Irwin, not the date of her marriage, 
not even her name or where she came from. But that was easy. An 
hour in the newspaper files of the public library back in the city, 
looking at the society pages, which after more than twenty years 
were yellow and crumbling and somewhat less than gay or grand, 
and I came out again into the light of day with my collar wilted 
and my hands begrimed but with the words scribbled on the back 
of an envelope in my inside coat pocket: Mabel CarrutherSy only 
child of Le Moyne Carruthers, Savannah, Georgia, Married, Janw- 
ary 12, 1^14, 

The date of marriage didn’t tell me much. True, the foreclosure 
proceedings had been instituted after the marriage, but that didn’t 
prove that Mabel wasn’t rich: it might have taken the Judge all the 
honeymoon to work around to the gross subject of the long green. 
The Judge would not have been crude. So she might have been 
rich as goose grease. But nevertheless, that night I was on the train 
for Savannah. 

Twenty-five years is not a long time in the eye of God, but it 
damned near takes the eye of God to spy much about the inside 
story of even a leading citizen like Le Moyne Carruthers who has 
been dead twenty-five years. I didn’t have the eye of God. I had to 
poke and pry and work newspaper files and pump the broken-down 
old bird who was city editor and cultivate the society of a fellow I 
had once known who was now a local hot-shot in the insurance 
game and get to know his friends. I ate roast duck stuffed with 
oysters and yams and that wonderful curry they make in Savannah, 
which tastes good even to a man like me who loathes food, and 
drank rye whisky, and walked down those beautiful streets General 
Oglethorpe laid out, and stared at the beautiful severe fronts of the 
houses, which were more severe than ever now, for the last leaves 
were off the arching trees of the streets and it was the season when 
the wind blows great chunks of gray sky in off the Atlantic which 
come dragging in so low their bellies brush the masts and chimney 
pots, like gravid sows crossing a stubble field. 

I saw the Le Moyne Carruthers house. The old boy must have 
been rich, all right. And when he died in 1904 he had been rich, 

230 



according to me probate ot the -will. But it was nine years between 
1904 and 1913, and a lot can happen. Mabel Carruthers had lived 
high. That was the story. But they all said she could afford it. And, 
according to what I could pick up, there was no reason to believe 
that the uncle in New York, who was the executor of the will, 
hadn’t known his business about handling Mabel’s investments. 

It looked absolutely level. But there is one thing you must never 
forget: the judgment docket book in the courthouse. 

I did not forget it. And there I found the name of Mabel Car- 
ruthers. People had had some trouble getting 'money out of Mabel. 
But this didn’t prove anything. Lots of rich girls are so rich they are 
just above paying bills and you have to pinch them to make them 
disgorge. But I noticed one thing. Mabel didn’t get the bad habit 
until 1911. In other words, she had paid her bills all right for the 
first seven years she had had her money. Now, I argued, if this ami- 
able failing had been merely the result of temperament and not of 
necessity, why did it come on her all at once? It had come on her 
all at once, and in a flock. Not that it was the corner grocer by him- 
self. He had some fast company, for Mabel didn’t like to pay Le 
Clerc in New York for a diamond pendant, and didn’t like to pay 
her dressmaker, and didn’t like to pay a local vintner for some 
pretty impressive stuff. Mabel had lived high, all right. 

The last judgment was to the Seaboard Bank for a loan, amount- 
ing to $750. Small change for Mabel. Now there was no Seaboard 
Bank in Savannah. The telephone directory told me ‘that. But an 
old fellow sitting in a split-bottom chair in the courthouse told me 
that the Seaboard Bank had been bought out by the Georgia 
Fidelity back about 1920. Down at the Georgia Fidelity, they told 
me. Yes, back in 1920. Who was president of the Seaboard then? 
Why, just a minute, and they’d find out. Mr. Percy Poindexter had 
been. Was he in Savannah? Well, they couldn’t say for sure, times 
changed so fast. But Mr. Pettis would know, Mr. Charles Pettis, 
who was his son-in-law. Oh, you are welcome, sir. Quite welcome. 

Mr. Percy Poindexter was not in Savannah now, and scarcely in 
this world, for after the exhalation of each breath you waited and 
waited for that delicate little contraption of matchwood and trans- 
parent parchment and filigree of blue veins to gather strength 
enough for one more effort. Mr. Poindexter reclined in his wheel 
chair, his transparent hands lying on the wine-colored silk of his 
dressing gown, his pale-blue eyes fixed on the metaphysical distance, 
and breathed each breath, saying, ''Yes, young man— you have lied 
to me, of course—but I do not care— care why you want to know— it 
could not matter now— not to anyone— for they are all dead— Le 

231 



Moyne Carruthers is dead— he was my friend-my dearest friend- 
but that was very long ago and I do not clearly recollect his face— 
and his daughter Mabel— I did what I could for her— even after her 
financial reverse she would have had enough to live decently— even 
in modest luxury— but no, she threw money away— always more— I 
xoaned her a great deal at the bank— some of it I shamed her into 
paying— two or three notes I paid myself— for the memory of Le 
Moyne— and sent them canceled to her to shame her to discretion— 
but no— but she would come back to me without shame and stare at 
me out of her big eyes— they were dark and sullen and hot-looking 
like a fever— and would say, I want money— and at last I brought a 
note to judgment— to shame her— to frighten her— for her own good 
—for she spent money like water— she spent it in a fever to give balls 
and parties— to adorn herself, and she was piain— to get a husband— 
but men gave her no mind beyond courtesy— but she got a husband 
—from the West somewhere, a wealthy man, they said— he married 
her quickly and took her away— she died and was brought back here 
—the burial— it was a bad day and few came— not even in respect to 
Le Moyne— not even his friends, some of them— dead twelve years 
and they had forgotten him— people forget—’' 

The breath gave out, and for a long moment I thought there 
would not be any more. But some more came, and he said, *'But— 
that— doesn’t matter— either.” 

I thanked him, and shook his hand, which was like cold wax and 
left a diill in my palm, and went out and got into my rented car 
and drove back to the city, where I got a drink, not to celebrate but 
to take the ice out of my marrow, which not the weather but the 
old man had put there. 

I had found out that Mabel Carruthers had been broke, but had 
married a rich man from the West. Or rather what in Savannah 
they called "the West.” Well, that was a joke. No doubt the rich 
man from the West had married her for her money, too. There 
must have been some gay times as the truth emerged. I left Savan- 
nah the next day, but not before I had gone out to the cemetery to 
look at the Carruthers vault, where moss encroached upon the great 
name and the angel lacked one arm. But that didn't matter, for all 
the Carrutherses were inside now. 

I had knocked and the sound had been very, very hollow. I sunk 
the crowbar in deeper. Judge Irwin had not paid off his mortgage 
in 1914 with his wife's money. What had he been doing in 1914 to 
get money? He had been running a plantation, and he had been, 
under Governor Stanton, the state's Attorney General. Well, you 
don't dear $44,000 a season off a cotton plantation (it was that 

232 



amount he had paid, for the $12,000 he had paid in 1910 had come 
from a mortgage on the house in the Landing, I discovered, which 
he cleared at the same time as the plantation). And his salary as 
Attorney General had been $5,400. You don't get rich being an At- 
torney General in a Southern state. At least, you aren't supposed to. 

But in March of 1915 the Judge had a good job, a very good job. 
He resigned as Attorney General to become counsel and vice-presi- 
dent for the American Electric Power Company, at a very good 
figure, $20,000 a year. There was no reason why they shouldn't have 
hired Judge Irwin, who was a good lawyer. But you could have 
hired a lot of good lawyers for a lot less than $20,000 a year. But a 
job in 1915 doesn’t pay off the bailiff in 1914. When I knocked, it 
still sounded hollow. 

So I took my one plunge in the stock market. One share of com- 
mon stock of the American Electric Power Company, and it was 
cheap as dirt in the middle of the Depression. But it turned out to 
be a very expensive piece of paper. For a lot of people. 

I was a coupon-clipper now, and I wanted to know how they were 
going to take care of my investment. So I took advantage of the 
stockholder’s right. I went down to look at the stock records of the 
American Electric Power Company, From the literal dust of time, 
1 dug up certain facts: In May, 1914, Montague. M. Irwin had sold 
five hundred shares of common stock, at par, to Wilbur Satterfield 
and Alex Cantor, who were, I was to discover later, officials of the 
company. That meant that Irwin had plenty in his pocket in late 
May to pay off the mortgages and have some change left over. But 
when had he got hold of the stock? That was easy. In March, i9i4> 
the company had been reorganized and a big chunk of new stock 
issued. Irwin's stock was part of the new chunk. The boys had 
passed it to Irwin (or had he bought it?) and some of the other boys 
had bought it back. (Irwin must have kicked himself about selling 
it, for it began to climb shortly and kept on climbing for quite a 
spell. Had Messrs. Satterfield and Cantor taken Irwin? They were 
old hands, on the inside. But Irwin had had to sell, and quick. 
There was the mortgage.) 

Irwin had had the stock, and had sold it to Messrs. Satterfield and 
Cantor. So far, so good. But how had Irwin got the stock? Had they 
just given it to him out of the blue? Not likely. But why do people 
give you great big chunks of nice new stock issues with gold seals? 
The answer is simple: Because you are nice to them. 

The job, then, was to find out if Judge Irwin— then state's Atfor- 
ney General— had been nice to the American Electric Power Com- 
pany. And that meant a long dig. With exactly nothing in the bot- 

2 SS 



tom of the hole. For the entire period when Judge Irwin was Attor- 
ney General, the American Electric Power Company had been an 
exemplary citizen. It had looked every man in the eye and had 
asked no favors. There was nothing in the hole. 

Well, how had Judge Irwin spent his time as Attorney General? 

The usual odds and ends, it developed. But there had almost 
been a case. The suit to recover royalties from the Southern Belle 
Fuel Company, which had operated, under lease, the state coal 
lands. There had been some hullabaloo about it, a little stir in the 
Legislature, and some editorials, and some speechmaking, but it 
was only the ghost of a whisper now. I was probably the only per- 
son in the state who knew about it now. 

Unless Judge Irwin knew, and woke up in the night and lay in 
the dark. 

It was all about the interpretation of a royalty contract between 
the state and the company. It was a very ambiguous contract. Per- 
haps it had been designed to be that way. In any case, by one read- 
ing, the state stood to gain about $150,000 in back royalties and 
God knew how much before the end of the contract period. But it 
was a very ambiguous contract. It was so ambiguous that, just as 
the shooting was about to start, the Attorney General decided that 
there was no case, '‘We feel, however,” he said in his public state- 
ment, "that it is most reprehensible that those responsible for this 
agreement should have been so lax in their protection of the public 
interest as to accept the figures of this contract by which the state 
has sold for a song one of her richest assets. But we also feel that, 
since the contract exists and is susceptible of only one reasonable 
interpretation, this state, which wishes to encourage industry and 
enterprise within her borders, cannot do otlierwise than bow to an 
arrangement which, though obviously unjust in its working, is bind- 
ing in the lav/. And we must remember, even in circumstances such 
as this, that it is by law that justice herself lives.” 

I read that in the old Times-Chronicle of February 26, 1914, 
which was dated a couple of weeks before the foreclosure proceed- 
ings were instituted against the Irwin plantation. And about three 
weeks before the final reorganization of the American Electric and 
the issue of the new stock. The relationship was a relationship in 
time. 

But is any relationship a relationship in time and only in time? I 
eat a persimmon and the teeth of a tinker in Tibet are put on edge. 
The fiower-in-the-crannied-wall theory. We have to accept it be- 
cause so often our teeth are on edge from persimmons we didn’t eat. 
So I plucked the flower out of its cranny and discovered an aston^ 

234 



ishing botanical fact. I discovered that its delicate little root, with 
many loops and kinks, ran all the way to New York City, where it 
tapped the lush dung heap called the Madison Corporation. The 
flower in the cranny was the Southern Belle Fuel Company. So I 
plucked another little flower called the American Electric Power 
Company, and discovered that its delicate little root tapped the 
same dung heap. 

I was not prepared to say that I knew what God and man are, but 
I was getting ready to make a shrewd guess about a particular man. 
But just a guess. 

It was just a guess for a long time. For I had reached the stage in 
my problem where there was nothing to do but pray. That stage 
always comes. You do all you can, and you pray till you can’t pray, 
and then you go to sleep and hope to see it all in the dream, by 
grace. **Kubla Khan,” the benzine ring, Caedmon’s song—they all 
came in the dream. 

It came to me. Just as I fell asleep one night. It was only a name. 
A funny name. Mortimer L, Littlepaugh, The name drifted around 
inside my head, and I thought how funny it was and went to sleep. 
But when I woke up in the morning, my first thought was: Mor- 
timer L. Littlepaugh. Then walking down tlie street that day, I 
bought a newspaper and as 'I looked at it I saw the name Mortimer 
L* Littlepaugh, Only it was not in the newspaper I had just bought. 
It was on a yellow, crumbling, old-cheese-smelling sheet, which I 
saw, suddenly, in my mind’s eye. Mortimer L, Littlepaugh's Death 
Accident, Coroner's Jury Decides. That was it. Then, wavering 
slowly up, like a chunk of waterlogged wood stirred loose from the 
depth, the phrase came: Counsel for the American Electric Power 
Company. That was it. 

I w^ent back to the files, and found the story. Mortimer had fallen 
out of a hotel window, or rather, off the little iron-railed balcony 
outside the window. He had fallen from the fifth floor, and that was 
the end of Mortimer. At the inquest bis sister, who lived with him, 
said he had recently been in ill health and had complained of fits 
of dizziness. There had been some theory of suicide, for Mortimer’s 
affairs were in a tangled condition, it developed, and the railing was 
high for an accidental fall. And there was’ a little mystery about a 
letter a bellhop swore Mortimer had given him the evening before 
his death, with a four-bit tip and instructions to go out and mail it 
immediately. The bellhop swore it had been addressed to Miss 
Littlepaugh. Miss Littlepaugh swore that she had received no letter. 
Well, Mortimer had been dizzy. 

He had also been a lawyer for the American Electric. He had, I 

235 



learned, been let out not long before Irwin came in. It did not 
sound too promising, but one more dead end wouldn’t matter. 
There had been plenty of dead ends in the six or eight months I 
had been on the job. 

But this was not a dead end. There was Miss Lily Mae Little- 
paugh, whom, after five weeks, I tracked down to a dark, foul, fox- 
smelling lair in a rooming house on the edge of the slums, in Mem- 
phis. She was a gaunt old woman, wearing black spotted and stained 
with old food, almost past the pretense of gentility, blinking slowly 
at me from weak red eyes set in the age-crusted face, sitting there in 
the near-dark room, exuding her old-fox smell, which mixed with 
the smell of oriental incense and candle wax. There were holy pic- 
tures on the walls on every spare space, and in one corner of the 
room, on a little table, a sort of shrine, with a curtain of faded wine- 
colored velvet hanging above it, and inside not a Madonna or cruci- 
fix as you would expect from the other pictures, but a big image 
made of felt and mounted on a board which I at first took to be a 
sunflower pincushion swollen to an impractical size, but then real- 
ized was an image of the sun and its rays. The Life-Giver. And in 
that room. Before it, on the table, a candle burned fatly as though 
fed not merely from the wax but from the substance of the greasy 
air. 

In the middle of the room was a table with a wine-colored velvet 
cover, and on the table a dish of poisonously colored hard randies, 
a glass of water, and a couple of long narrow horns or trumpets 
apparently made of pewter. I sat well back from the table. On the 
other side. Miss Littlepaugh studied me from the red eyes, then 
said, in a voice surprisingly strong, “Shall we begin?” 

She continued to study me, then said, half as though to herself, 
^'If Mrs. Dalzell sent you, I reckon—” 

“She sent me.” She had sent me. It had cost me twenty-five dol- 
lars. 

“I reckon it’s all right,” 

“It’s all right,” I said. 

She got up and went to the candle on the little table, watching 
me all the while as though, in the last flicker of the light before she 
blew it out, I might turn out to be distinctly not all right. Then 
she blew out the candle and made her way back to her chair. 

After that, there were wheezings and meanings for a bit, the 
chink of metal which I took to be from one of the trumpets, some 
conversation, not very enlightening or edifying, from Princess Spot- 
ted Deer, who was Miss Littlepaugh’s control, and some even more 
unenli^tening remarks, given in a husky guttural, from somebody 

236 



on the Other Side "who claimed to be named Jimmy and to have 
been a friend of my youth. Meanwhile, the radiator against the wall 
at my back tliumped and churned, and I inhaled the pitch darkness 
and sweated. Jimmy was saying that I was going to take a trip. 

I leaned forward in the dark and said, “Ask for Mortimer. I want 
to ask Mortimer a quesnon.** 

One of the trumpets chinked softly again, and the Princess made 
a remark I didn’t eaten. 

“It’s Mortimer L. I wax'it,” I said. 

There was some huskiness in the trumpet, very indistinct. 

“He is trying to come through,” Miss Littlepaugh’s voice said, 
“but the vibrations are bad.” 

“I want to ask him a question,” I said. “Get Mortimer. You know, 
Mortimer L. The L. is for Lonzo.” 

The vibrations were still bad. 

“I want to ask him about the suicide.” 

The vibrations must have been very bad, for there wasn’t a sound 
now. 

“Get Mortimer,” I said. “I want to ask him about the insurance, 

I want to ask him about the last letter he wrote.” 

The vibrations must have been terrific, for a trumpet banged on 
the table and bounced off to the floor, and there was a racket and 
rustling across the table, and when the electric light came suddenly 
on, there was Miss Littlepaugh standing by the door with her hand 
on the switch, staring at me out of the red eyes, while her breath 
hissed quite audibly over old teeth. 

“You lied,” she said, “you lied to mel” 

“No, I didn’t lie to you,” I said. “My name is Jack Burden, and 
Mrs. Dalzell sent me.”- 

“She’s a fool,” she hissed, “a fool to send you-you-” 

“She thought I was all right. And she wasn’t a fool to want 
twenty-five dollars,” 

I took out my wallet, removed some bills, and held them in my 
hand. “I may not be all right,” I said, “but this stuff always is.” 

“What do you want?” she demanded, her eyes snatching from 
my face to the green sheaf and back to my face. 

“What I said,” I said. “I want to talk to Mortimer Lonzo Litde- 
paugh. If you can get him on the wire.” 

“What do you want from him?” 

“What I said I wanted. I want to ask him about the suicide.” 

“It was an accident,” she said dully. 

I detached a bill and held it up. “See that,” I said. “That is one 

237 



hundred bucks.*' I laid it on the table, at the end toward her. "Look 
at it good,'* I said. "It is yours. Pick it up.** 

She looked fearfully at the bill. 

I held up two more bills. "Two more,** I said, "just like it. Three 
hundred dollars. If you could put me in touch with Mortimer, the 
money would be yours.** 

"The vibrations,'* she muttered, "sometimes the vibrations—** 

"Yeah,** I said, "the vibrations. But a hundred bucks will do a lot 
for the vibrations. Pick up that bill. It is yours.** 

“No," she said quickly and huskily, "no.** 

I took one of the two bills in my hand and laid it on top of the 
other one on the table. 

"Pick it up,** I said, "and to hell with the vibrations. Don't you 
like money? Don't you need money? When did you get a square 
meal? Pick it up and start talking.** 

"No," she whispered, cringing back against the wall, with a hand 
now on the doorknob as though she might flee, staring at the 
money. Then she stared at me, thrusting her head out suddenly, 
saying, "I know— I know you— you're trying to trick me— you're from 
the insurance company!" 

"Wrong number," I said. "But I know about Mortimer's insur- 
ance policy. Suicide clause. That's why you—" 

"He—" she hissed, and her gaunt face gathered itself into a con- 
tortion which might have been grief, or rage, or despair, you 
couldn’t tell for sure— "he borrowed on his insurance— nearly all— 
and didn't tell me— he— ’* 

"So you lied for almost nothing," I said. "You collected the insur- 
ance, all right, but there wasn’t much left to collect." 

"No," she said, "there wasn't. He left me— that way— he didn't 
tell me— he left me with nothing— and this— this— *’ She looked about 
the room, the broken furniture, the foulness, and seemed to shudder 
and shrink from it as though she had just entered and perceived it. 
"This—" she said, "this.” 

"Three hundred would help," I said, and nodded toward the two 
bills on the velvet. 

"This— this— ’* she said, "he left me— he was a coward— oh, it was 
easy for him— easy— all he had to do was—** 

"Was to jump," I finished. 

That quieted her. She looked at me heavily for a long moment, 
then said, "He didn't jump." 

"My dear Miss Littlepaugh," I said in the tone usually described 
as "not unkindly,” "why don’t you admit it? Your brother has been 
dead a long time and it will do him no harm. The insurance com* 

238 



pany has forgotten about the business. Nobody would blame you 
for lying— you had to live. And—” 

**It wasn't the money,” she said, **It was the disgrace. I wanted 
him buried from the church. I wanted—” She stopped suddenly. 

“Ah,” I said, and glanced at the holy pictures around the wall, 

“I was a believer then,”^ she said, paused, corrected herself, “I be- 
lieve now in God, but it is different.” 

“Yes, yes,” I said soothingly, and looked at the one trumpet left 
on the table. ‘‘And, of course, it is stupid to think of it as a disgrace. 
When your brother did it—” 

“It was an accident,” she said, 

“Now, Miss Littlepaugh, you just admitted the fact a second 
ago. 

“It was an accident,” she repeated, drawing back into herself. 

“No,” I said, “he did it, but it was not his fault. He was driven to 
it.” I watched her face. “He had given years to that company, then 
they threw him out. To make room for a man who had done a 
wicked thing. Who drove your brother to his death. Isn't that true?” 
I got up, and took a step toward her. “Isn’t that true?” 

She looked at me steadily, then broke. “He did! He drove him to 
it, he killed him, he was hired because it was a bribe— my brother 
knew that— he told them he knew it— but they threw him out— they 
said he couldn't prove it, and threw him out—” 

“Could he prove it?” I said. 

“Oh, he knew, all right. He knew all about that coal business— he 
knew long before but he didn’t know what they were going to do to 
him— they treated him fine then and knew all the time they would 
throw him out— but he went to the Governor and said—” 

“What,” I demanded, “what did you say?” And stepped toward 
her. 

“To the Governor, he—” 

“Who?” 

“To Governor Stanton, and the Governor wouldn't listen, he 
just—” 

I grasped the old woman's arm and held it tight. “Listen,” I said, 
“you are telling me that your brother went to Governor Stanton 
and told him?” 

“Yes, and Governor Stanton wouldn't listen. He wouldn't listen. 
He told him he couldn't prove anything, he wouldn't investigate, 
and that—” 

“Are you lying?” I demanded, and shook the matchwood arm. 

“It's true, true to God!” she exclaimed quivering in my grasp, 
“And that killed my brothf r. The Governor killed him. He went to 

239 



the hotel and wrote the letter to me and told me, and that night—” 

“The letter,*’ I said, “what happened to the letter?” 

“—that night— just before day— but waiting all night in that room 
^and just before day—” 

’The letter,” I demanded, “what happened to the letter?” 

I shook her again, as she repeated, whispering, “Just before 
day—” But she came up out of the depth of the thought she was in, 
looked at me, and answered, “I have it.” 

I released my grip on her arm, thrust a bill into her clammy 
hand, and crushed her fingers upon it. “It’s a hundred dollars,” I 
said. “Give me the letter, and you can have the rest— three hundred 
dollarsl” 

“No,” she said, “no, you want to get rid of the letter. Because it 
tells the truth. You’re that man’s friend.” She stared into my face, 
prying into it, blinking, like an old person prying with feeble 
fingers to open a box. She gave up, and asked helplessly, “Are you 
his friend?” 

“If he could see me right now,” I said, “I don’t imagine he would 
think so.” 

“You aren’t his friend?” 

“No,” I said. She looked at me dubiously. “No,” I said, “I’m not 
his friend. Give me the letter. If it is ever used it will be used 
against him. I swear it.” 

“I’m afraid,” she said, but I could feel her fingers under my arm 
slowly working the bill I had thrust there. 

“Don’t be afraid of the insurance company. That was long back.’^ 

“When I went to the Governor—” she began. 

“Did you go to the Governor, too?” 

“After it happened— after everything— I wanted to hurt that man 
—I went to the Governor—” 

“My God,” I said. 

“—and asked him to punish him— because he had taken a bribe— 
because he had killed my brother— but he said I had no proof, that 
that man was his friend and I had no proof.” 

“The letter, did you show him the letter?” 

“Yes, I had the letter.” 

“Did you show Governor Stanton the letter?” 

“Yes— yes— and he stood there and said, ‘Miss Littlepaugh, you 
have sworn that you did not receive that letter, you have sworn to 
a lie, and that is perjury and the penalty for perjury is severe, and 
if that letter becomes known you will be prosecuted to the full ex- 
tent of the law.’ ” 

“What did you do?” I asked. 


240 



The head, which was nothing but gray hair and yellow skin stuck 
on bone, and old memories, wavered on its thin stalk of a neck, 
lightly and dryly as though touched by a breeze. “Do," she echoed, 
«‘do," shaking her head. “I was a poor woman, alone. My brother^ 
he had gone away. What could I do?" 

“You kept the letter," I affirmed, and she nodded. 

“Get it," I said, “get it. Nobody will bother you now. I sweat it." 

She got it. She clawed into the mass of yellow and acid-smelling 
papers and old ribbons and crumpled cloth in a tin trunk in the 
corner, while I leaned over her and fretted at the palsied incom* 
petence of the fingers. Then she had it. 

I snatched the envelope from her hand and shook the paper out. 
It was a sheet of hotel stationery— the Hotel Moncastello— dated 
August 3, 1915. It read: 

Dear Sister: 

I have been this afternoon to see Governor Stanton and told him how I 
have been thrown out of my job like a dog after all these years because 
that man Irwin was bribed to let up on the suit against the Southern Belle 
Fuel people and how he now has my place at a salary they never paid 
me and I gave them my heart’s blood all these years. And they call him 
vice-president, too. They lied to me and they cheated me and they make 
him vice-president for taking a bribe. But Governor Stanton would not 
listen to me. He asked me for my proof and I told him what Mr. Satter- 
field told me months ago how the case had been fixed and how in our 
company they’d take care of Irwin. Now Satterfield denies it. He denies 
h« ever told me, and looks me in the eye. So I have no proof, and Gover- 
nor Stanton will not investigate. 

I can do no more. I went as you know to the people who are against 
Governor Stanton in politics but they would not listen to me. Because 
that blackguard and infidel McCall who is their kingpin is tied up with 
Southern Belle. At first they were interested but now they laugh at me. 
What can I do? I am old and not well. I will never be any good again. I 
will be a drag on you and not a help. What can I do, Sister? 

You have been good to me. I thank you. Forgive me for what I am 
going to do, but I am going to join our sainted Mother and our dear 
Father who were kind and good to us and who will greet me on the Other 
Shore, and dry every tear. 

Good-bye until the happy day when we shall meet again in Light. 

Mortimer 

P.S. I have borrowed against my insurance a. good bit. On account of bad 
investments. But there is something left and if they know I have done 
what I am going to do they will not pay you. 

P.S. Give my watch which was Father’s to Julian, who will respect it even 
if he is only a cousin. 


241 



P.S. I could do what I am going to do easier if I were not trying to get the 
insurance for you. I have paid for the insurance and you ought to have iL 

So the poor bastard had gone to the Other Shore, where Mother 
and Father would dry away every tear, immediately after having 
instructed his sister how to defraud the insurance company. There 
it all was— all of Mortimer Lonzo— the confusion, weakness, piety, 
self-pity, small-time sharpness, vindictiveness, all of it in the neat, 
spidery, old-fashioned bookkeeper’s sort of hand, a little shakier 
than ordinary perhaps, but with all the t’s crowed and the i’s dotted. 

I replaced it in the envelope and put it in my pocket. “I am 
going to have it photostated,” I said, “and you may have it back, 
ril have the photostat certified. But you must make a statement 
before a notary about your visit to Governor Stanton. And—” I 
went over to the table and picked up the two bills and handed them 
to her— “there will be another one coming to you after you make 
your statement. Get your hat.” 

So I had it after all the months. For nothing is lost, nothing is 
ever lost. There is always the clue, the canceled check, the smear of 
lipstick, the footprint in the canna bed, the condon on the park 
path, the twitch in the old wound, the baby shoes dipped in bronze, 
the taint in the blood stream. And all times are one time, and all 
those dead in the past never lived before our definition gives them 
life, and out of the shadow their eyes implore us. 

That is what all of us historical researchers believe.- 

And we love truth. 



Chapter Six 


rr WAS late March in 1937 '^vhen I went to see Miss Littlepaugh 
in the foul, fox-smelling lair in Memphis, and came to the end of 
my researches. I had been on the job almost seven months. But 
other things had happened during that period besides my re- 
searches. Tom Stark, a sophomore, had made quarterback on the 
mythical All Southern Eleven and had celebrated by wrapping 
an expensive yellow sport job around a culvert on one of the 
numerous new speedways which bore his father^s name. Fortunately, 
a Highway Patrol car, and not some garrulous citizen, discovered 
the wreck, and the half-empty bottle of evidence was, no doubt, 
flung into the night to fall in the dark waters of the swamp. Beside 
the unconscious form of the Sophomore Thunderbolt lay another 
form, conscious but badly battered, for in the big yellow expensive 
sport job Tom had had with him a somewhat less expensive yel- 
low-headed sport job, named, it turned out, Caresse Jones. So 
Caresse wound up in the operating room of the hospital and not in 
the swamp. She obligingly did not die, though in the future she 
never would be much of an asset in a roadster. But her father was 
less obliging. He stamped and swore that he was going to have 
blood, and breathed indictments, jail, publicity, and lawsuits. His 
fires, however, were pretty soon banked. Not that it didn’t cost some 
nice change. But in the end the whole transaction was conducted 
without noise. Mr, Jones was in the trucking business, and some- 
body pointed out to him that trucks ran on state roads and that 
truckers had a lot of contacts with certain state departments. 

Tom wasn’t hurt a bit, though he lay up in the hospital uncon- 
scious for three hours while the Boss, pale as a starched sheet, and 
with his hair hanging and his eyes wild and sweat running down his 
cheeks, paced the floor of the waiting room and ground one fist into 
the palm of the other hand while his breath made a labored sound 
like the breath of his son in the room beyond. Then Lucy Stark 
got there— it was about four in the morning then— her eyes red but 

24a 



tearless and a stunned look on her face. They had quite a row. But 
that Vv’as after the word had come out that Tom was all right. Up 
till then he had paced the floor breathing hard, and she had sat and 
stared straight into the blankness. But when the word came, she got 
up and went over to stand before him, and say, “You must stop 
him.’* Her voice was scarcely above a whisper. 

He stood there staring heavily, uncomprehendingly into her face, 
then put one hand out to touch her, like a bear touching something 
with a clumsy exploratory paw, and said, through dry lips, “He’s— 
he’s going to be all right, Lucy. He’s all right.” 

She shook her head. “No,” she said, “he’s not all right.” 

“The doctor—” he took a lurching step toward her— “the doctor 
said—” 

“No, he’s not all right,” she repeated. “And won’t be. Unless you 
make him.” 

The blood suddenly flushed heavily into his cheeks. “Now look 
here, if you mean stopping football— if you—” That was an old story 
between them- 

“Oh, it’s not just football. That’s bad enough, thinking he’s a 
hero, that there’s nothing else in the world— but it’s everything that 
goes with it— he’s wild and selfish and idle and—” 

“No boy of mine’s going to be a sissy, now. That’s what you 
wantl” 

“I would rather see him deaa at my feet than what your vanity 
will make him.” 

“Don't be a fool I” 

“You will ruin him.” Her voice was quiet and even. 

“Hell, let him be a man. I never had any fun growing up. Let 
him have some fun I I want him to have some fun. I used to see 
people having fun and never had any. 1 want him to—” 

“You will ruin him,” she said, with her voice as quiet and even 
as doom. 

“God damn itl— look here—” he began, but by that time I had 
sneaked out the door and had closed it softly behind me. 

But Tom’s accident wasn’t all that happened that winter. 

There was Anne Stanton’s project of getting state money for the 
Children’s Home. She got a good handout, and was pleased as 
punch with herself. She claimed she was about to get a two-year 
grant, which was badly neeaed, she said, and was probably right, 
for the springs of private charity had nigh dried up about 1929 and 
weren’t running more than a trickle even seven years or so later. 

There were stirrings down in the Fourth District, where Mac- 
Murfee still had things by the short ones. His representative got up 

244 



in Congress in Washington, which was far off but not as far off as 
the moon, and aired his views about the Boss and made headlines 
over the country; so the Boss bought himself a big wad of radio 
time and aired his views of Congressman Petit and treated the na- 
tion to a detailed biography, in several installments, of Congress- 
man Petit, who, it developed from the work of the Boss’s research 
department, had thrown a grenade in a glass house. The Boss didn't 
answer anything Petit had said, he simply took care of the sayer. 
The Boss knew all about the so-called fallacy of the argumentum 
ad hominem. *lt may be a fallacy,” he said, "but it is shore-God 
useful. If you use the right kind of argumentum you can always 
scare the hominem into a laundry bill he didn’t expect.” 

Petit didn’t come off too well, but you had to hand it to Mac- 
Murfee, he never quit trying. Tiny Duffy didn’t quit trying, either. 
He was hell-bent on selling the Boss on the idea of throwing the 
basic contract for the hospital to Gummy Larson, who was a power 
in the Fourth District and would no doubt persuade MacMurfee, 
or, to speak more plainly, would sell him out. The Boss would listen 
to Tiny about as attentively as you listen to rain on the roof, and 
say, ”Sure, Tiny, sure, we’ll talk about it some time,” or, ”God 
damn it, Tiny, change your record.” Or he might say nothing in 
reply, but would look at Tiny in a massive, deep-eyed, detached, 
calculating way, as though he were measuring him for something, 
and not say a word, till Tiny’s voice would trail off into a silence 
so absolute you could hear both men’s breathing, Tiny’s breath sibi- 
lant, quick, and shallow for all his bulk, the Boss’s steady and deep. 

The Boss, meanwhile, w^as making that hospital his chief waking 
thought. He took trips up East to see all the finest, biggest ones, the 
Massachusetts General, the Presbyterian in New York, the Philadel- 
phia General, and a lot more. “By God,” he would say, “I don’t 
care how fine they are, mine’s gonna be finer, and I don’t care how 
big they are, mine’s gonna be bigger, and any poor bugger in this 
state can go there and get the best there is and not cost him a 
dime.” When he was off on his trips he spent his time with doctors 
and architects and hospital superintendents, and never a torch 
singer or a bookmaker. And when he was back home, his office was 
nothing but a pile of blueprints and notebooks full of his scribbling 
and books on architecture and heating systems and dietetics and 
hospital management. You would come in, and he would look up 
at you and begin talking right in the middle of a beat, as though 
you had been there all the time, “Now up at the Massachusetts 
General they’ve got—” It was his baby, all right. 

But Tiny wouldn’t give up. 


245 



One night I came into the Mansion, saw Sugar-Boy, who was 
lounging in the high, chastely proportioned hall with a sheet of 
newspaper across his knee, a dismantled ,38 in his hand, and a can 
of gun oil on the floor, asked him where the Boss was, watched him 
while his lips tortured themselves to speak and the spit flew, real- 
ized from the jerk of his head that the Boss was back in the library, 
and went on back to knock on the big door. As soon as I opened 
the door I ran right into the Boss’s eyes like running into the busi- 
ness end ot a double-barreled 10-gauge shotgun at three paces, and 
halted. “Look!” he commanded, heaving his bulk up erect on the 
big leather couch where he had been propped, “look!” 

And he swung the double-barrel round to cover Tiny, who stood 
at the hearthrug before him and seemed to be melting the tallow 
down faster than even the log fire on the bricks would have war- 
ranted. 

“Look,” he said to me, “this bastard tried to trick me, tried to 
smuggle that Gummy Larson in here to talk to me, gets him all the 
way up here from Duboisville and thinks I’ll be polite. But the hell 
I was polite.” He swung to Tiny again. “Was I, was I polite?” 

Tiny did not manage to utter a sound. 

“Was I, God damn it?” the Boss demanded. 

“No,” Tiny said, as from the bottom of a deep well. 

“I was not,” the Boss said. “I didn’t let him get across that door- 
sill.” He pointed at the closed door beyond me. “I told him if I 
ever wanted to see him I’d send for him, and to get the hell out 
But you—” and he snapped out a forefinger at Tiny— “you— ” 

“I thought—” 

“You thought you’d trick me— trick me into buying him. Well, 
I’m not buying him. I’m going to bust him. I’ve bought too many 
sons-of-bitches already. Bust ’em and they’ll stay busted, but buy ’em 
and you can’t tell how long they’ll stay bought. I bought too many 
already. I made a mistake not busting you. But I figured you’d stay 
bought. You’re scared not to.” 

“Now, Boss,” Tiny said, “now. Boss, that ain’t fair, you know 
how all us boys feel about you. And all. It ain’t being scared, it’s—” 

“You damned well better be scared,” the Boss said, and his voice 
was suddenly sweet and low. Like a mother whispering to her child 
in the crib. 

But there was new sweat on Tiny, 

“Now get out!” the Boss said in a more positive tone. 

I looked at the door after it had been closed upon the retreating 
form, and said, “You certainly do woo your constituency.” 

“Christ,” he said, and sank back on the leather of the couch and 

246 



shoved some of the blueprints aside. He reached up and tried to 
unbutton his collar, fumbled, got impatient and snapped off the 
button and jerked the tie loose. He twisted his heavy head a little 
from side to side, as though the collar had been choking him. 

“Christ,** he said, almost pettishly, “can*t he understand I don't 
want him messing round with this thing?*' And he shoved at the 
blue prints again. 

“What do you expect?** I asked. “There’s six million dollars in- 
volved. Did you ever see the flies stay away from the churn at churn- 
ing time?** 

“He better stay away from this churn.*' 

“He*s just being logical. Obviously, Larson is ready to sell out 
MacMurfee. For a contract. He is a competent builder. He—*' 

He lunged up to a sitting position, stared at me and demanded, 
“Are you in on this?*' 

“It is nothing to me," I said, and shrugged. “You can build it 
with your bare hands for all of me. I merely said that, given his 
premises. Tiny is logical.** 

“Can't you understand?** he demanded, searching my face. 
“Damn it, can't you understand either?" 

“I understand what I understand." 

“Can’t you understand?" he demanded, and heaved up from the 
couch, and the instant he was on his feet, from the slight sway of 
his posture, I knew he had been drinking. He stepped to me and 
seized my lapel, and shook me a little, fixing his eyes upon my face 
—now close to him, I could see that they were bloodshot— and say- 
ing, “Can't you understand either? I'm building that place, the best 
in the country, the best in the world, and a bugger like Tiny is not 
going to mess with it, and I*m going to call it the AVillie Stark Hos- 
pital and it will be there a long time after I’m dead and gone and 
you are dead and gone and all those sons-of-b itches are dead and 
gone, and anybody, no matter he hasn't got a dime, can go there—" 

“And will vote for you," I said. 

“I’ll be dead," he said, “and you'll be dead, and I don't care 
whether he votes for me or not, he can go there and—" 

“And bless your name," I said. 

“Damn iti" he shook me hard, crumpling my lapel in his big 
hand, “you stand there grinning like that— get that grin off your 
face— get it off or I’ll—" 

“Listen," I said, “I'm not any of your scum, and I'm still grinning 
when I please." 

“Jack— hell. Jack— you know I don't mean that— it's just you stand 
there and grin. Damn it, can’t you understand? Can't you?" He 

247 



Iield the lapel and thrust the big face at me, his eyes gouging into 
mine, saying, ‘'Can’t you? Can’t you see I’m not going to let those 
bastards muck with ic? The Willie Stark Hospital? Can’t you see? 
And I’m going to get me the damned best man there is to run it. 
Yes, sirl The best there is. Yes, sir, up in New York they told me to 
get him, he was the man. And, Jack, you—” 

"Yeah?” I asked. 

"You’re going to get him.” 

I disengaged myself from the grasp on ray lapel, straightened it, 
and dropped into a chair. "Get who?” I asked. 

"Dr. Stanton,” he said, "Dr. Adam Stanton,” 

I almost bounced right out of the chair. The ash off my cigarette 
fell down my shirt front. "How long have you been having these 
symptoms?” I asked. "You been seeing any pink elephants?” 

"You get Stanton,” he said. 

"You are hearing voices,” I said. 

"You get him,” he repeated dourly. 

"Boss,” I said, "Adam is an old pal of mine. I know him like a 
brother. And I know he hates your guts.” 

"I’m not asking him to love me. I’m asking him to run my hos- 
pital. I’m not asking anybody to love me. Not even you.” 

"We all love you,” I mimicked Tiny, "you know how all us boys 
feel.” 

"Get him,” he said. 

I stood up, stretched, yawned, moved toward the door. "I am 
leaving,” I declared. “Tomorrow, when you are in possession of 
your faculties, I’ll hear what you’ve got to say.” 

And I shut the door behind me. 

Tomorrow, when he was in full possession of his faculties, I heard 
what he had to say, and it was: "Get Stanton.” 

So I went to the shabby little monastic apartment where the 
grand piano glittered like a sneer in the midst of near-squalor and 
the books and papers piled on chairs and the old coffee cup with 
dried dregs inside which the colored girl had forgotten to pick up, 
and where the friend of my youth received me as though he were 
not a Success and I were not a Failure (both spelled with capital 
letters), laid his hand on my shoulder, pronounced my name, 
looked at me from the ice-water-blue, abstract eyes which were a re- 
proach to all uncertain, twisted, and clouded things and were as un- 
wavering as conscience. But the smile on his face, unsealing almost 
tentatively the firm suture of the mouth, put a warmth in you, a 
shy warmth like that you discover with surprise in the winter sun- 
shine in late February. That smile was his apology for being what 

248 



he was, for looking at you the way he did, for seeing what he saw. 
It did not so much forgive you, and the world, as ask forgiveness for 
himself for the crime of looking straight at whatever was before 
him, which might be you. But he didn't smile often. He smiled at 
me not because I was what I was but because I was the Friend of 
His Youth. 

The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, 
for he does not really see you. He sees in his mind a face which does 
not exist any more, speaks a name—Spike, Bud, Snip, Red, Rusty, 
Jack, Dave— which belongs to that now nonexistent face but which 
by some inane and doddering confusion of the universe is for the 
moment attached to a not too happily met and boring stranger. But 
he humors the drooling, doddering confusion of the universe and 
continues to address politely that duU stranger by the name which 
properly belongs to the boy face and to the time when the boy voice 
called thinly across the late afternoon water or murmured by a 
campfire at night or in the middle of a crowded street said, '‘Gee, 
listen to this— 'On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble; His forest 
fleece the Wrekin heaves—' ” the Friend of Your Youth is your 
friend because he does not see you any more. 

And perhaps he never saw you. What he saw was simply part of 
the furniture of the wonderful opening world. Friendship was some- 
thing he suddenly discovered and had to give away as a recognition 
of and payment for the breathlessly opening world which momently 
divulged itself like a moonflower. It didn't matter a damn to whom 
he gave it, for the fact of giving was what mattered, and if you hap- 
pened to be handy you were automatically endowed with all the 
appropriate attributes of a friend and forever after your reality is 
irrelevant. The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will 
ever have, for he hasn't the slightest concern with calculating his 
interest or your virtue. He doesn’t give a damn, for the moment, 
about Getting Ahead or Needs Must Admiring the Best, the two 
official criteria in adult friendships, and when the boring stranger 
appears, he puts out his hand and smiles (not really seeing your 
face) and speaks your name (which doesn't really belong to your 
face), saying, "Well, Jack, damned glad you came, come on in, boyl" 

So I sat in one of his broken-down easy chairs, after he had 
cleared the books out, and drank his whisky, and waited for the 
moment when I was going to say, "Now, listen here. I’m going to 
tell you something and don't you start yelling till I finish.'* 

He didn't yell till I had finished. Not that I took long to finish. 
I said, "Governor Stark wants you to be director of the new hospital 
and medical center." 


94Q 



He didn’t, to be precise, yell then. He didn’t make a sound. He 
looked at me for nearly a minute, with an unsmiling clinical eye as 
though my symptoms merited special attention; then he slowly 
shook his head. “Better think it over,” I said, “maybe it’s not as bad 
as it sounds, there may be some angles—” But I let my voice trail oflE, 
watching him shake his head again and smile now with the smile 
which did not forgive me but humbly asked me to forgive him for 
not being like me, for not being like everybody else, for not being 
like the world. 

If he had not smiled. If he had smiled but had smiled a confident, 
to-hell-with-you, satirical smile. Or even a smile forgiving me. If he 
had not smiled the smile which humbly, but with dignity, begged 
me to forgive him, then things might have been different. But he 
smiled that way out of the fullness of whatever it was he had, out 
of the depth of the idea he lived by— whatever the hell it was or 
whyever the hell he lived that way— and things were the way they 
turned out to be. Giving that smile, he was like a man who stops to 
give a beggar a buck and in opening his wallet lets the beggar catch 
sight of the big roll. If the beggar hadn't seen the big roll he would 
never have followed the man down the street, waiting for the block 
without the street lamp. Not so much because he wants the roll as 
because he now cannot endure the man who has it and gave him a 
buck. 

For as he smiled and said, “But I’m not interested in the angles,” 
I did not feel that shy warmth as of the winter sunshine which I had 
always felt before when he smiled, but suddenly felt something else, 
which I didn’t have a name for but which was like the winter itself 
and not the winter sunshine, like the stab of an icicle through the 
heart. And I thought: All right, you smile like that— you smile like 
that— 

So, even as the thought vanished— if a thought can ever be said 
to vanish, for it rises out of you and sinks back into you— so I said, 
“But you don’t know what the angles are. For instance, the Boss 
expects you to write your ticket.” 

“The Boss,” he repeated, and on the word his upper lip curled 
more than customary to expose the teeth, and the sibilance seemed 
exaggerated, “need not expect to buy me. I have—” he looked about 
the room at the clutter and near-squalor— “everything I want.” 

**The Boss isn’t any fool. You don’t think he was trying to buy 
you?” 

“He couldn’t,” he said. 

“What do you think he was trying to do?” 

“Threaten me; That would be next.” 

250 



“No, I nodded, not that. He couldn*t scare you.^* 

“That is what he seems to depend on. The bribe or the threat.*" 

“Guess again,” I said. 

He rose irom his chair, took a couple of restless paces across the 
frayed green carpet, then swung to face me. “He needn*t think he 
can flatter me,” he said, fiercely. 

“Nobody could flatter you,” I said, softly, “nobody in the world. 
And do you know why?” 

“Why?” 

“Listen, pal, there was a man named Dante, who said that the 
truly proud man who knew his own worth could never commit the 
sin of envy, for he could believe that there was no one for him to 
envy. He might just as well have said that the proud man who knew 
his own worth would not be susceptible to flattery, for he would be- 
lieve that there was nothing anybody else could tell him about his 
own worth he didn't know already. No, you couldn't be flattered.'* 

“Not by him, anyway,” Adam said grimly. 

“Not by anybody,” I said. “And he knows it.” 

“What does he try for, then? Does he think I—** 

“Guess again,” I said. 

He stood there in the middle of the frayed green carpet and 
stared at me, head slightly lowered, with the slightest shade— not 
of doubt or perturbation— over the fine abstract blue of the eyes. 
It was just the shade of question, of puzzlement. 

But that is something. Not much, but something. It is not the 
left to the jaw and it does not rock them on their heels. It does not 
make the breath come sharp. It is just the tap on the nose, the 
scrape across with the rough heel of the glove. Nothing lethal, just 
a moment's pause. But it is an advantage. Push it. 

So I repeated, “Guess again.” 

He did not answer, looking at me, with the shade deeper like a 
cloud passing suddenly over blue water. 

“All right,” I said, “I'll tell you. He knows you are the best 
around, but you don't cash in on it. So obviously, you don’t want 
money, or you would charge folks something like the others in the 
trade or would hang on to what you do take. You don't want fun, 
or you would get some, for you are famous, relatively young, and 
not crippled. You don't want comfort, or you would quit working 
yourself like a navvy and wouldn't live in this slum. But he knows 
what you want.” 

“I don't want anything he can give me,” Adam affirmed. 

“Are you sure, Adam?” I said. “Are you sure?” 

“Damn it—” he began, and the blood was up in his cheeks. 

253 



"He knows what you want,” I cut in. *1 can put it in a word, 
Adam.” 

"What?” 

"You want to do good,” I said. 

That stopped him. His mouth was open like a fijsh's gaping for 
air. 

"Sure,” I said, "that’s it. He knows your secret.” 

"I don’t see what—” he began, fiercely again. 

But I cut in, saying, "Easy now, it’s no disgrace*. It’s just eccen- 
tric. That you can’t see somebody sick without having to put your 
hands on him. That you can’t see somebody with something broken 
without wanting to fix it. Somebody with something rotten inside 
him without wanting to take a knife in your strong, white, and 
damned well-educated fingers, pal, and cut it out. It is merely eccen- 
tric, pal. Or maybe it is a kind of supersickness you’ve got your- 
self.” 

"There’s a hell of a lot of sick people,” he said glumly, "but I 
don’t see—” 

"Pain is evil,” I said, cheerfully. 

"Pain is an evil,” he said, "but it is not evil— it is not evil in it- 
self,” and took a step toward me, looking at me like an enemy. 

"That’s the kind of question I don’t debate when I’ve got the 
toothache,” I retorted, "but the fact remains that you are the way 
you are. And the Boss—” 1 delicately emphasized the word Boss— 
"knows it. He knows what you want. He knows your weakness, pal. 
You want to do good, and he is going to let you do good in whole- 
sale lots.” 

"Good,” he said, wolfishly, and twisted his long, thin upper lip, 
"good— that’s a hell of a word to iise around where he is.” 

"Is it?” I asked casually. 

"A thing does not grow except in its proper climate, and you 
know what kind of a climate that man creates. Or ought to know.” 

I shrugged. "A thing is good in itself— if it i:; good. A guy gets 
ants in his pants and writes a sonnet. Is the sonnet less of a good— 
if it is good, which I doubt— because the dame he got the ants over 
happened to be married to somebody else, so that his passion, as 
they say, was illicit? Is the rose less of a rose because—” 

"You are completely irrelevant,” he said. 

"So I am irrelevant,” I said, and got out of the chair. "That’s 
what you always used to say when I got you in a corner in an 
argument a thousand years ago when we were boys and argued all 
night. Could a first-class boxer whip a first-class wrestler? Could a 
lion whip a tiger? Is Keats better than Shelley? The good, the true, 

252 



and the beautiful. Is there A God? We argued all night and I always 
won, but you— you bastard—” and I slapped him on the shoulder-^ 
“you always said I was irrelevant. But little Jackie is never irrele- 
vant. Nor is he immaterial, and—” I looked around, scooped up my 
hat and coat— am going to leave you with that thought and—” 

”A hell of a thought it is,” he said, but he was grinning now, he 
was my pal now, he was the Friend of My Youth. 

But I ignored him anyway, saying— ‘You can't say I don't put 
the cards on the table, me and the Boss, but I‘m hauling out, for 
I catch the midnight to Memphis, where I am going to interview 
a medium.” 

“A medium?” he echoed. 

“An accomplished medium named Miss Littlepaugh, and she is 
going to give me word from the Other Shore that the Boss's hos- 
pital is going to have a dark, handsome, famous, son-of-a-bitch of a 
director named Stanton.” And with that I slammed his door and 
was running and stumbling down the dark stairs, for it was the 
kind of apartment house where the bulb burns out and nobody 
ever puts a new one in and there is always a kiddie car left on a 
landing and the carpet is worn to ribbons and the air smells dankly 
of dogs, diapers, cabbage, old women, burnt grease, and the eternal 
fate of man. 

I stood in the dark street and looked back at the building. The 
shade of a window was up and I looked in where a heavy, bald 
man in shirt sleeves sat at a table in what is called a “dinette” and 
slumped above a plate like a sack propped in a chair, while a child 
stood at his elbow, plucking at him, and a woman in a slack color- 
less dress and hair stringing down brought a steaming saucepan 
from the stove, for Poppa had come home late as usual with his 
bunion hurting, and the rent was past due and Johnnie needed 
shoes and Susie’s report card wasn't any good and Susie stood at 
his elbow, plucking at him feebly, and staring at him with her 
imbecilic eyes and breathing through her adenoids, and the Max- 
field Parrish picture was askew on the wall with its blues all having 
the savage tint of copper sulphate in the glaring light from the 
unshaded bulb hanging from the ceiling. And somewhere else in 
the building a dog barked, somewhere else a baby was crying in 
automatic gasps. And that was Life and Adam Stanton lived in 
the middle of it, as close as he could get to it; he snuggled up to 
Life, breathing the cabbage smell, stumbling on the kiddie car, 
bowing to the young just-married, gum-chewing, hand-holding 
couple in the hall, hearing through the thin partition the sounds 
made by the old woman who would be dead (it was cancer he ha^d 

253 



told me) before summer, pacing the frayed green carpet among the 
books and broken-down chairs. He snuggled up to Life, to keep 
warm perhaps, for he didn't have any life of his own— just the 
office, the knife, the monastic room. Or perhaps he didn't snuggle 
to keep warm. Perhaps he leaned over Life with his hand on tlie 
pulse, watching from the deep-set, ^ abstract, blue, clinical eyes, 
slightly shadowed, leaning ready to pop in the pill, pour the po- 
tion, apply the knife. Perhaps he had to be close in order to keep 
a reason for the things he did. To make the things he did be them- 
selves Life. And not merely a delightful exercise of technical skill 
which man had been able to achieve because he, of all the animals, 
had a fine thumb. 

Which is nonsense, for whatever you live is Life. That is some- 
tliing to remember when you meet the old classmate who says, 
**Well, now on our last expedition up the Congo—" or the one who 
says, "Gee, 1 got the sweetest little wife and three of the swellest 
kids ever—" You must remember it when you sit in hotel lobbies or 
lean over bars to talk to the bartender or stand in a dark street 
at night, in early March, and stare into a lighted window. And re- 
member little Susie in there has adenoids and the bread is prob- 
ably burned, and turn up the street, for the time has come to hand 
me down that walking cane, for I got to catch that midnight train, 
for all my sin is taken away. For whatever you live is Life. 

As I turned away, there was the wild burst of music from up in 
the building, louder than the baby's crying, shaking the mortar 
out of the old brickwork. It was Adam's piano. 

I caught the train for Memphis, stayed three days, had my seance 
with Miss Littlepaugh, and returned. With some photostats and 
an affidavit in my brief case. 

Upon my return I found the call in my box. It was Anne’s num- 
ber, then Anne’s voice on the wire, and, as always, the little leap 
and plunk in my heart like a frog jumping into a lily pool. With 
the ripples spreading round. 

It was her voice saying she had to see me. I told her that was 
easy, she could see me all the rest of her life. But she ignored that 
little joke, as no doubt it deserved, and said for me to meet her 
right away. "At the Crescent Cove,” I suggested, and she agreed. 
The Crescent Cove was Slade's place. 

I was there first, and had a drink with Slade himself in the midst 
of soft lights and sweet music and the gleam of chromium, and 
looked at Slade's yellow-ivory bullet head and expensive tailoring 
and at the reigning blond at the cash register, and remembered 
wistfully the morning long ago in Prohibition, when in the back 

254 



room of his fly-bitten speakeasy Slade, with hair on his head then 
and not a dime in his pocket, had refused to fall in with Duffy’<5 
attempt to force beer on Cousin Willie from the country, who 
was, it turned out, Willie Stark, and who wanted orange pop. That 
had fixed Slade up forever. So now I had my drink, and looking 
at him, marveled how little is required for a man to be lost or saved. 

And I looked up into the mirror of the bar antj saw Anne Stan- 
ton come in the door. Or rather, her image come through the image 
of the door. For the moment I did not turn to face the reality. In- 
stead, I looked at the image which hung there in the glass like a 
recollection caught in the ice of the mind—you have seen, in win- 
ter in the clear ice of a frozen stream, some clean bright gold and 
red leaf embedded to make you think suddenly of the time when 
all the bright gold and red leaves had been on the trees like a party 
and the sunshine had poured down over them as though it would 
never stop. But it wasn’t a recollection, it was Anne Stanton her- 
self, who stood there in the cool room of the looking glass, above 
the bar barricade of bright bottles and siphons across some distance 
of blue carpet, a girl— well, not exactly a girl any more, a young 
woman about five-fee t-four with the trimmest pair of nervous ankles 
and smallish hips which, however, looked as round as though they 
had been turned on a lathe, and a waist just the width to make 
you wonder if you could span it with your hand, and all of this 
done up in a swatch of gray flannel which pretended to a severe 
mannish cut but actually did nothing but scream for attention to 
some very unmannish arrangements within. 

She was standing there, not quite ready to start patting the blue 
carpet with an impatient toe, turning her smooth, cool face (under 
a light-blue felt hat) slowly from one side to the other to survey 
the room. I caught the flash of blue in her eyes as she glanced about. 

Then she spotted my back by the bar and came my way. I did 
not look round and did not meet her eyes in the mirror. When she 
was just behind me, she said, “Jack.” 

I didn’t look round. “Slade,” I said, “this strange woman keeps 
following me round, and I thought you ran a respectable place. 
What the hell are you going to do about it?” 

Slade had swung round to look at the strange woman, whose face 
was all at once chalk-white and whose eyes w^ere uttering sparks 
like a couple of arc lights. “Lady,” Slade said, “now look here, 
lady—” 

Then the lady suddenly overcame the paralysis which had frozen 
her tongue and the blood hit her cheeks. “Jack BurdenI” she said, 
^‘if you don’t—' 


255 



knows your name/’ Slade said. 

I turned around to face the reality which was not something 
caught in the ice of the mind but was something now flushed, feline, 
lethal, and electric and about to blow a fuse. “Well, I declare,” I 
said, “if it isn’t my fianc^el Say, Slade, I want you to meet Anne 
Stanton. We’re going to get married.” 

“Gee,” Slade said, his pan as dead as something in the sink next 
morning, “I’m glad ter—” 

“We’re getting married in twenty-hundred-and-fifty,” I said. “It 
will be a June wedding, with—” 

“It will be a March murder,” Anne said, “right now.” Then she 
smiled, and the blood subsided in her cheeks, and she put out her 
hand to Slade, 

“Glad ter meetcha,” Slade said, and though the face which he 
exhibited might well have belonged to a wooden Indian, the eyes 
in it didn’t miss any of the details suggested by the coat suit, “How 
about a drink?” he asked. 

“Thank you,” Anne said, and settled on a Martini. 

After the drink, she said, “Jack, we’ve got to go,” thanked Slade 
again, and led me away into the night full of neon lights, gasoline 
fumes, the odor of roasted cofEee, and the honk of taxis. 

“You have a wonderful sense of humor,” she said. 

“Where are we going?” I sidestepped her remark. 

“You are such a smart aleck.” 

“Where are we going?” 

“Aren’t you ever going to grow up?” 

“Where are we going?” 

We were walking aimlessly down the side sti:eet past the swinging 
doors of bars and oyster joints and past newsstands and old women 
selling flowers. I bought some gardenias, gave them to her, and said, 
“I reckon I am a smart aleck, but it is just a way to pass the time.” 

We walked on another half block, threading through the crowd 
that drifted and eddied in and out of the swinging doors. 

“Where are we going?” 

“I wouldn’t be going anywhere with you,” she said, “if I didn’t 
have to talk to you.” 

We were passing another old woman selling powers. So I took 
another bunch of gardenias, laid down my four bits, and shoved 
the blossoms at Anne Stanton, “If you can’t be civil,” I said, “I’m 
going to smother you in these damned things.” 

“All right,” she said, and laughed, “all right, I’ll be good.” And 
she swung on to my arm and matched her step to mine, holding 
the flowers in her free hand, her bag tucked under the off elbow 

256 



We kept step, not talking for a half block. I looked down, watch- 
ing her feet flick out, one-two, one-two. She was wearing black su^e 
shoes, very severe, very mannish, and she clicked the pavement 
with authority, but they were small and the line ankles flickered, 
one-two, one-two, hypnotically. 

Then I said, “Where are we going?’* 

“To walk,” she said, “just walk. I’m too restless to be still.*’ 

We walked on, down toward the river. 

“I had to talk to you,” she said. 

“Well, talk then. Sing. Spill.” 

“Not now,” she said soberly and looked up at me and I saw in 
the light of the street lamp that her face was very serious, even 
worried. The flesh seemed smoothed back, even painfully taut over 
the wonderful perfection of the bone structure of her face. There 
wasn’t any waste material in that face, and always there was a 
hint in it of a trained-down, keyed-up intensity, though an inten- 
sity kept under the smooth surface of calm, like a flame behind 
glass. But the intensity was keyed up more than usual, I could see. 
And I had the feeling that if you turned the wick up a fraction the 
glass might crack. 

I didn’t reply, and we took a few more paces. Then she said, 
“Later. Now just walk.” 

So we walked. We had left the streets where the bars and pool- 
rooms and restaurants were, and the blare or whimper of music 
from beyond the swinging doors. We passed down a grubby, dark 
street where a couple of boys scurried along by the walls of the 
houses, uttering short, lost-sounding, hollow calls, like marsh birds. 
The shutters were all dosed on these houses, with here and there 
a tiny chink of light showing, or perhaps the faint sound of voices. 
Later in the spring, when the weather turned, people would be 
sitting out on the sidewalk stoops here in the evenings, talking back 
and forth, and now and then, if you were a man passing, one of 
the women would say in a conversational tone, “Hey, bud, you 
want it?” For this was the edge of the crib section, and some of 
these houses were cribs. But at this season, at night, whatever kinds 
of life were in these houses— the good life and the bad life— were 
still withdrawn deep inside the old husks of damp, crumbling brick 
or flaking wood. A month from now, in early April, at the time 
■when far away, outside the city, the water hyacinths would be 
covering every inch of bayou, lagoon, creek, and backwater with 
a spiritual-mauve to obscene-purple, violent, vulgar, fleshy, solid, 
throttling mass of bloom over the black water, and the first heart- 
breaking, misty green, like girlhood dreams, on the old cypresses 

257 



would have settled down to be leaf and not a damned thing else, 
and the arm-thick, mud-colored, slime-slick mocassins would heave 
out of the swamp and try to cross the highway and your front tire 
hitting one would give a slight bump and make a sound like ker- 
whicsh and a tinny thump when he slapped heavily up against the 
underside of the fender, and the insects would come boiling out of 
the swamps and day and night the whole air would vibrate with 
them with a sound like an electric fan, and if it was night the owls 
back in the swamps would be whoo-ing and moaning like love and 
death and damnation, or one would sail out of the pitch dark into 
the rays of your headlights and plunge against the radiator to ex- 
plode like a ripped feather bolster, and the fields would be deep 
in that rank, hairy or slick, juicy, sticky grass which the cattle gorge 
on and never get flesh over their ribs for that grass is in that black 
soil and no matter how far the roots could ever go, if the roots were 
God knows how deep, there would never be anything but that 
black, grease-clotted soil and no stone down there to put calcium 
into that grass— well, a month from now, in early April, when all 
those things would be happening beyond the suburbs, the husks 
of the old houses in the street where Anne Stanton and I were 
walking would, if it were evening, crack and spill out onto the 
stoops and into the street all that life which was now sealed up 
within. 

But now the street was blank, and dim, with a leaning lamppost 
at the end of the block, and the cobbles oily-greasy-glimmering in 
its rays and the houses shuttered, and the whole thing looked like 
a set for a play. You expected to see the heroine saunter up, lean 
against the lamppost and light a cigarette. She didn't come, how- 
ever, and Anne Stanton and I walked straight through the set, 
which you knew was cardboard until you put out your hand to 
touch the damp, furry brick or spongy stucco. We walked on 
through without talking. Perhaps for the reason that if you are in 
a place like that which looks like a cardboard stage set and is so 
damned q-u-a-i-n-t, whatever you say will sound as though it had 
been written by some lop-haired, swivel-hipped fellow who lived 
in one of tliose cardboard houses in an upstairs apartment (over- 
looking the patio— Oh, Jesus, yes, overlooking the patio) and wrote 
a play for the Little Theater which began with the heroine saunter- 
ing into a dim street between rows of cardboard houses and leaning 
against an askew lamppost to light a cigarette. But Anne Stanton 
was not that heroine, so she didn't lean against the lamppost and 
didn't say a word, and we kept on walking. 

We walked on down till we came to the river, where the ware- 

258 



houses were and tiie docks fingered out into the water. The metaJ 
roofs of the docks glimmered dully in the rays of the street lamps. 
Above the pilings of the docks a thick tangle of mist coiled and 
drifted, broken here and there to show the sleek, velvety, motion- 
less water, which glimmered darkly like the metal of the roofs, or 
like a seal’s black, water-slick fur. A few docks down, the stubby 
masts of freighters were barely visible against the dark sky. Some- 
where downstream a horn was hooting and moaning. We moved 
along beside the docks, looking out into the river, which was tufted 
and matted over the blackness with the scraggly, cirrus, cottony 
mist. But the mist stayed close to the surface of the river, and to 
look out over it made you think of being on a mountain at night 
and looking for miles out over clouds below. There were a few 
lights over on the far shore. 

We came to an open pier which I remembered as the place where 
excursion boats picked up their crowds on summer afternoons for 
the moonlight ride up the river-big, jostling, yelling, baby-carry- 
ing, pop-and-likker-drinking, sweating crowds. But there wasn’t any 
big side-wheeler there now, white as a wedding cake, cranky and 
improbable, with red and gilt decorations, and no calliope was 
playing "Dixie” and no whistles blowing. The place was as still as 
a tomb and as blank as Gobi on a moonless night. We walked out 
to the end of the pier, leaned on the railing, and looked across the 
river. 

"All right,” I said. 

She didn’t answer. 

“All right,” I repeated, "I thought you wanted to talk.” 

“It’s Adam,” she said. 

“What about Adam?” I asked, evenly. 

“You know— you know perfectly well— you went there and—” 

“Look here,” I said, and I felt my blood getting up and my voice 
taking on an edge, "I went there and made him a proposition. He’s 
a grown man and if he doesn’t like it he doesn’t have to take it. 
There’s no use blaming me and—” 

“I’m not blaming you,” she said. 

“You just started to jump me,” I said, “but if Adam can’t make 
up his own mind and can’t take care of himself, you needn’t blame 
me. 

“I’m not blaming you. Jack. You’re so jumpy and touchy. Jack.” 
She laid her hand on my arm, on the rail, and patted me, and I 
felt the head of steam in me drop a few pounds of pressure. 

“If he can’t take care of himself, then you—” I began. 

But she cut in, quick and sharp, “He can’t. That’s the trouble.” 

259 



"Now, look here, all 1 did was to offer him a proposition/' 

Her hand, which had been laid on my forearm to soothe me and 
pat down the steam pressure, suddenly clamped on me, driving the 
fingers damned near to the bone. I jumped, and even as I jumped, 
I heard her say, in a low, tense voice, almost a whisper, "You can 
make him take it” 

"He’s a grown man and he—” I began. 

But she cut in again, "You’ve got to make him-you've got tol” 

"For God’s sakel” I said. 

"You’ve got to,” she repeated, in that same voice, and I was sure 
that the fingers clenched on my arm were bringing blood. 

"You were just now giving me hell because I merely offered him 
the proposition," I said, "and now you say I've got to make him 
take it” 

"I want him to take it,” she said, and her fingers fell away from 
their grip. 

"Well, I'm damned,” I observed in the direction of the great in- 
terstellar darkness, and then peered into her face. There wasn’t 
much light— I could see the face, an unnatural chalk-white, and the 
eyes were just dark gleams— but I could tell that she meant what 
she saud. "So you want him to take it?” I said slowly. "And you're 
Governor Stanton’s daughter and Adam Stanton's sister, and you 
want him to take it?” 

"He's got to,” she said, and I saw her small gloved hands clench 
on the railing, and felt sorry for the railing. She stared out over the 
coiling carpet of river mist, as from the moimtain out over the 
clouds hiding the dark world. 

"Why?” I asked. 

"I went up there,” she said, still looking out over the river,, "to 
talk to him about it. I w^n't sure he ought to when I went up. I 
wasn't sure then, but when I saw Kim I was.” 

Something about what she was saying disturbed me, like an off- 
stage noise or something caught out of the tail of your eye or an 
itch that comes when your hands are full and you can't scratch. 
I was listening to what she was saying, and it wasn’t that. It was 
something else. But I couldn't catch what. So I shoved it onto the 
back of the stove, and listened to what she was saying. 

"When I saw how he was,” she was saying, "I knew. I just knew. 
Oh, Jack, he was all worked up— it wasn’t natural— just because he 
had been asked. He has cut himself off from everything— from 
everybody. Even from me. Not really, but it's not like it used to be.” 

"He's awful busy,” I objected lamely. 

"Busy,” she echoed, "busy— yes, he's busy. Ever since he was in 

260 



medical school, he has wrked like a slave. There's just something 
driving him— driving him. It's not money and it's not reputation 
and it's not-I just don't know what—" Her voice drifted oflE. 

"It is very simple," I said. "He wants to do good." 

"Good," she echoed. Then, "I used to think so— oh, he does good 
^but-" 

"But what?" 

"Oh, I don't know— and I shouldn't say it— I shouldn't— but I 
almost think that the work— even the doing good— everything is 
just a way to cut himself off. Even from me-even me—" 

Then she said, "Oh, Jack, we had an awful row. It was awful. 
I went home and cried all night. You know how we've always been. 
And to have a terrible row. You know how we've been? You know?" 
She insisted, and clutched my arm, as though to make me agree, 
to make me tell her how they had been. 

"Yes,” I said, "I know.” I looked at her and was afraid for a 
second she was going to ay again, but she didn't, and I should 
have known it, for she was the kind that did her aying on the mid- 
night pillow. If she did any. 

"I told him," she was saying, "I told him that if he wanted to 
do any good— really do any good— here was the time. And the way. 
To see that the Medical Center was run right. And even expandei 
And all that. But he just froze up and said he wouldn't touch the 
thing. And I accused him of being selfish— of being selfish and 
proud- of putting his pride before everything. Before doing good- 
before his duty. Then he just glared at me, and grabbed me by 
the wrist and said I couldn't understand anything, that a man 
owed himself something. I said it was his pride, just his pride, and 
he said he was proud not to touch filth, and if I wanted him to do 
that I could just—" She stopped, took a breath and, I guessed, a 
new grip on her nerve to say what she was about to say. "Well, what 
he was going to say was that I could get out. But he didn't say.- it. 
I'm glad—” she paused again— "I'm glad he didn't say it. At least, 
he didn't say it.” 

"He didn't mean it,” I said. 

"1 don't know— I don't know. If you had seen his eyes blazing and 
his face all white and drawn. Oh, Jack—” she grabbed my arm 
again, and shook me as though I were holding back an answer— 
"why won't he do it? Why is he this way? Doesn't he see he ought 
to? That he's the man and he's got to? Why, Jack? Why?" 

"To^be perfectly brutal," I said, "it is because he is Adam Stan- 
ton, the son of Governor Stanton and the grandson of Judge Pey- 
ton Stanton and the great*grandson of General Morgan Stanton, 

261 



and he has lived all his life in the idea that there was a time a long 
time back when everything was run by high-minded, handsome 
men wearing knee breeches and silver buckles or Continental blue 
or frock coats, or even buckskin and coonskin caps, as the case may 
be— for Adam Stanton isn’t any snob— who sat around a table and 
candidly debated the good of the public thing. It is because he is 
a romantic, and he has a picture of the world in his head, and 
when the world doesn’t conform in any respect to the picture, he 
wants to throw the world away. Even if that means throwing out 
the baby with the bath. Which,” I added, ”it always does mean.” 

That held her for a moment. She turned her face from me and 
looked out over the misty river again. Then she murmured, ”He 
ought to take it.” 

*^Well,” I said, “if you want him to do it, you’ve got to change 
the picture of the world inside his head. If I know Adam Stanton.” 
And I did know Adam Stanton, and at that moment I could see bis 
face with the skin drawn back tight over the bone and the strong 
mouth like the neatly healed wound and the deep-set blue eyes 
blazing like pale ice. 

She hadn’t answered me. 

“That’s the only way,’' I said, “and you might as well settle for 
that.” 

“He ought to do it,” she whispered, looking over the river. 

“How much do you want him to?” 

She swung to me, and I peered into her face. Then she said, 
“As much as I want anything.” 

“You mean that?” I said. 

“I mean it. He’s got to. To save himself.” She grabbed my arm 
again. “For himself. As much as for everybody else. For himself.” 

“Are you sure?” 

“Sure,” she said, fiercely. 

“I mean sure that you want him to do it? More than anything?” 

“Yes,” she said. 

I studied her face. It was a beautiful face— or if not beautiful, 
better than beautiful, a tense, smooth, spare-modeled, finished face, 
and it was chalk-white in the shadow and the eyes were dark 
gleams. I studied her face, and for the moment just did that and 
let all the questions just slide away, like something dropped into 
the mist and water below us to slide away in the oily silence of 
the current. 

“Yes,” she repeated, whispering. 

But I kept on peering into her face, really looking at it for the 

262 



first time, after all the years, for the close, true look at a thing can 
only be one snatched outside of time and the questions. 

“Yes,’’ she whispered, and laid her hand on my arm, lightly this 
time. 

And at the touch I came out of what I had been sunk in. 

“Ail right,’’ I said, shaking myself, “but you don’t know what 
you are asking for.” 

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “Can you make him?” 

“I can,” I said. 

“Well, why didn’t you— why did you wait— why— ” 

“I don’t think—” I said slowly— “I don’t think I would have ever 
done it— at least, not this way-if you, you yourself, hadn’t asked 
me.” 

“How can you do it?” she demanded, and the fingers closed on 
ttiy arm. 

“It is easy,” I said, “I can change that picture of the world he 
carries around in his head.” 

“How?” 

“I can give him a history lesson.” 

“A history lesson?” 

“Yes, I am a student of history, don’t you remember? And what 
we students of history always learn is that the human being is a 
very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad 
but are good and bad and the good comes out of bad and the bad 
out of good, and the devil take the hindmost. But Adam, he is a 
scientist, and everything is tidy for him, and one molecule of 
oxygen always behaves the same way when it gets around two 
molecules of hydrogen, and a thing is always what it is, and so 
when Adam the romantic makes a picture of the world in his head, 
it is just like the picture of the world Adam the scientist works 
with. All tidy. All neat. The molecule of good always behaves the 
same way. The molecule of bad always behaves the same way. 
There are—” 

“Stop it,” she ordered, ”stop it, and tell me. You are trying not 
to tell me. You are talking so you won’t tell me. Now, tell me.” 

“All right,” I said. “You remember I asked you about Judge 
Irwin being broke? Well, he was. His wife wasn’t rich, either. He 
just thought she was. And he took a bribe.” 

“Judge Irwin?” she echoed. “A bribe?” 

“Yes,” I said. “And I can prove it.” 

“He— he was father’s friend, he was—” She paused, straightened 
herself, swung her face from me and looked out over the river, then 
after a moment, in a sturdy voice, as though not to me but to the 

263 



whole wide world over there beyond the mist: “Well, that doesn't 
prove anything. Judge Irwin.'* 

I didn’t reply. I, too, stared out over the coiling mist, in the dark. 

I was aware, though I didn’t look, when she turned toward me 
again. 

“Well, say something,” she said, and I heard the tension in her 
voice. 

But I didn’t say anything. I stood there vraiting; and waiting, I 
could hear, in the silence, the tiny suck and lapping about the piles 
down in the mist. 

Then she said, “Jack— was my— was my father— was— ” 

I didn’t answer. 

“You cowardl” she said, “you coward, you won’t tell me.” 

“Yes,” I said. 

“Did he take a bribe? Did he? Did he?’* She had grabbed my 
arm and was shaking me, hard, 

“Not that bad,” 1 said. 

“Not that bad, not that bad,” she mimicked, and burst out 
laughing, hanging on my arm. Then she suddenly released me, 
thrust my arm from her as though it were foul, and shrank back. 
“I don’t believe it,” she announced. 

“It’s true,” I said. “He knew about Irwin and protected him. 
I can prove it. I have documents. I’m sorry, but it's true.” 

“Oh, you’re sorryl You’re so sorry. You dug it all up, all the lies— 
for that man— for that Stark— for him— and you— you’re so sorry.” 
And she began to laugh again, and swung away, and was running 
down the pier, laughing and stumbling as she ran. 

I ran after her. 

I was just about to grab her, at the end of the pier, when the cop 
stepped out of the shadow of the warehouse# and said, “Hey, 
buddy I” 

Just then, Anne stumbled and I grabbed her by the arm. She 
swayed in my grasp. 

The cop approached. “What’s up?” he demanded. “What you 
runnen that dame fer?” 

“She’s hysterical,” I said, talking fast, “I’m just trying to take 
care of her, she’s had a few drinks, just a couple, and she’s hys- 
terical, she’s had a great shock, a grief—” 

The cop, heavy, squat, hairy, took one waddling stride toward 
us, then leaned and whiffed her breath. 

“—she’s had a shock, and it has upset her so she took a drink, 
and she’s hysterical. I’m trying to get her home,” 

264 



His beefy, black-jowled face swung toward me. “I’ll get you 
home,” he allowed, “in the wagon. If you ain’t careful.” 

He was just talking. I knew he was just talking to hear himself, 
for it was late and he was bored and dull. I knew that, and should 
have said, respectfully, that I would be careful, or have said, laugh- 
ing and perhaps winking, that sure. Captain, I’d get her home. 
But I didn’t say either thing. I was all keyed up, and she was sway- 
ing in my clutch, making a kind of sharp, broken noise with her 
breathing, and his God-damned beefy, black-jowled face was there 
in front of me. So I said, “The hell you will.” 

His eyes bugged out a little at that, the jowls swelled with black 
blood, and he lunged one step closer, fingering his stick, saying, 
“The hell I won’t. I’m gonna right now, both of you, by GodI” 

Then he said, “Come on,” prodded me with the stick, and re- 
peated, “Come on,” heiding me toward the end of the pier, where, 
no doubt, the box w^as he would use to call. 

I took two or three steps forward, feeling the prod of the stick 
in the small of my back, dragging Anne, who hadn’t said a word. 
Then I remembered, “Listen here, if you want to be on the force 
in the morning, you better listen to me.” 

“Listen, hell,” he rejoined and jabbed my kidney a little harder. 

“If it weren’t for the lady,” I said, “I’d let you go on and bust 
yourself. I don’t mind a ride to headquarters. But I’ll give you a 
chance.” 

“Chance,” he echoed, and spat from the side of his mouth, and 
jabbed again. 

“I’m going to reach into my pocket,” I said, “not for a gun, just 
for my wallet, so I can show you something. Did you ever hear of 
Willie Stark?” 

“Sure,” he said. And jabbed. 

“You ever hear of Jack Burden,” I asked, “that newspaper fellow 
who is a sort of secretary to Willie?” 

He reflected a moment, still prodding me on. “Yeah,” he said 
then, grudgingly. 

“Then maybe you’d like my card,” I said, and reached for the 
wallet. 

“Naw, you don’t,” he said, and let the weight of the stick lie 
across my lifted forearm, “naw, you don’t, I’m gitten it myself.” 

He reached in for the wallet, took it, and started to open it. As a 
matter of principle. 

“You open that,” I said, “and I’ll bust you anyway, call the 
wagon or not. Give it here.” 

He passed it over to me. I drew out a card, and handed it to him. 

265 



He studied it in the bad light. **Jeez,” he said, with a slight hiss- 
ing sound like the air escaping from a child’s balloon, “how wuz 
I to know you wuz on the payrolls ’ 

“You damned well better find out next time,” I said, “before you 
get gay. Now call me a cab.” 

“Yes, sir,” he said, hating me with the pig's eyes out of the swol- 
len face. “Yes, sir,” he said, and went to the box. 

Suddenly Anne pulled herself loose from me, and I thought she 
was going to run. So I grabbed her again. “Oh, you’re so wonder- 
ful,” she said, in a harsh whisper, “so wonderful— you’re grand— 
you bully the bullies— you cop the cops— you’re wonderful—” 

I stood there holding her, not listening, aware only of a weight 
in my middle like a cold stone. 

“—you’re so wonderful— and clean— everything is so wonderful 
and clean—” 

I didn’t say anything. 

“—you’re so damned wonderful— and clean and strong— oh, you’re 
a hero—” 

“I’m sorry 1 acted like a son-of-a-bitch,” I said. 

“I can’t imagine to what particular thing you are referring,” she 
whispered in mock sweetness, underscoring the particular, setting 
it meticulously in ray hide like a banderilla. Then she swung her 
face from me, and wouldn’t look at me, and the arm I clutched 
might as well have belonged to a dummy in a show window, and 
the cold stone in my stomach was a stone in a deep well covered 
with slime, and the pig’s eyes in the swollen, black-jowled face 
came back and hated me in the dull, mist-streaked night, and a 
horn moaned down the river, and in the cab Anne Stanton sat back 
in one comer, very straight and as far from me as possible, and the 
light from street lamps we passed would flicker across her white 
face. She would not speak to me. Until we came to a street with a 
car track on it. Then she said, “Get out. You can catch some car 
here. I don’t want you to take me home.” 

So I got out. 

Five nights later I heard Anne Stanton’s voice on the telephone. 

It said, “Those things— those papers you said you had— send them 
to me.” 

I said, “I’ll bring them.” 

It said, “No. Send them.” 

I said, “All right. I’ve got extra photostats of one thing. Tomor- 
row I’ll get a photostat of the other paper and send them together.** 

It said, “A photostat. So you don’t trust me.” 

266 



I said/“I’ll send them tomorrow,** 

Then there was the click, in the little black tube. Then the tiny, 
windy, humming sound which is the sound of space falling away 
from you, and of infinity, and of absolute nothingness. 

Every night when I came into my room, I would look at the 
telephone. I would say to myself: It is going to ring. Once, even, 
I was sure that it had rung, for the* tingle and stab of its ringing 
was in all my nerves. But it hadn’t rung. I had merely fallen asleep. 
Once I picked up the thing and held it to my ear, listening to the 
tiny, humming sound which is the sound of the various things I 
have already mentioned. 

Every night, at the desk in the lobby, I asked if there had been 
any numbers left for me. Yes, sometimes there were numbers. But 
never the right number. 

Then I would go up to my room, where the telephone was and 
the brief case with the photostat and the affidavit from Memphis. 
I hadn’t given that to the Boss yet. I hadn’t even told him about it 
yet. Not that I was thinking about not giving it to him. I would 
give it to him. That was in the cards. But not yet. Not quite yet. 
After the telephone had rung. 

But it didn’t ring. 

Instead, after about a week, one night as I turned the corner of 
the corridor, I saw a woman sitting on the bench down beyond my 
door, I fumbled for my key, inserted it in the lock, and was about 
to enter when I was aware that the woman stood beside me. I 
swung toward her. It was Anne Stanton. 

She had made no sound on the deep carpet. Not with her light 
foot. 

*‘You gave me heart failure,” I said, and swung the door wide, 
and added, ”Come in.” 

*‘I thought you were so careful about my reputation,” she said. 
”At least you claimed to be. Once.” 

”I remember,” I said, ”but come in anyway.” 

She walked into the room and stood in the middle of the floor 
with her back to me while I shut the door. I noticed that she had 
a brown manila envelope in her hand, with her bag. 

Not turning to me, she stepped to the desk by the wall and flung 
down the envelope. “There it is,” she said. “The photostats. 1 
brought them back. But I would have brought back the originals 
if you had trusted me with them.” 

“I know it,” I said. 

“It was awful,” she said, still not turning to me, 

267 



I went across to her and touched her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” I said. 

“It was awful. You don’t know.” 

I didn’t know how awful. So I stood there just behind her and 
didn’t dare to touch her again, even with the weight of my finger. 

“You don’t know,” she said. 

“No,” I said, “I don’t.” 

“It was awful.” Then she turned to put her wide eyes on me, 
and I had the impression of stumbling into a well. “It was awful,” 
she said. “I gave them to him— those things— and he read them and 
then he just stood there— he didn’t move— he didn’t make a sound— 
and his face was white as a sheet and I could hear him breathing. 
Then I touched him— and he looked at me— he looked at me a long 
time. Then he said— he looked at me and said, 'You.* That was 
what he said, ‘You.’ Looking at me.” 

“God damn it,” I said, “God damn it, what’s he blaming you for, 
why doesn’t he blame Governor Stanton?” 

“He does,” she said. “Oh, he blames him. That is what is so 
awful. The way he blames him. His father. You remember— you 
remember. Jack—” she reached out and laid her hand on my fore 
arm— “you remember— our father— how he was— how he used to read 
to us— how he loved us— how he taught Adam and how proud he 
was of him— how he took all that time to teach Adam himself— 
oh. Jack, he sat there in front of the fire and I was a little girl and 
he would read to us and I put my head against his knee— oh, Jack— 
you remember?” 

“I remember,” I said. 

“Yes,” she said, “yes— and i^other was dead and father did all he 
could— he was so proud of Adam— and now Adam— and now—” She 
released my arm, and stepped back and lifted her hands, putting 
her fingers to her forehead in a distracted gesture. “Oh, Jack, what 
have I done?” she whispered. 

“You did what you thought you ought to do,” I said firmly. 

“Yes,” she whispered, “yes, that was it.” 

“It’s done now,” I said. . 

“Yes, it is done,” she said, out loud, and her jaw closed with an 
expression which suddenly made her look like Adam, the mouth 
firm and sealed, the skin drawn and tight on the flesh, and she lifted 
her head to stare the world down, and I felt like bursting into tears. 
If that had been my habit. 

“Yes,” I said, “it’s done.” 

“He'll do it,” she said. 

And I almost demanded. What, do what? For, for the moment, I 
had forgotten the reason that I had told Anne the facts, the reason 

268 



that I had given her the photostats, the reason that she had shown 
them to her brother. I had forgotten that there was a reason. But I 
remembered now, and questioned, “You persuaded him?** 

“No,** she shook her head slowly, “no, I didn*t say anything. I 
gave those things to him. He knew.** 

"‘What happened?’* 

“What I told you. He looked at me hard, and said *You.* Just like 
that. Then I said, ‘Adam, don’t say it that way, you mustn’t, Adam, 
you mustn’t!* And he said, ‘Why?* And I said, ‘Because I love you, 
because I love him, love Father.* And he kept on looking at me, 
then said, ‘Love him!* Then, ‘Damn his soul to hell!’ I called out, 
"Adam, Adam,* but he turned his back on me, and walked across the 
room to his bedroom door and went in and shut the door. Then I 
went out and walked by myself, in the dark, for a long time. So I 
could sleep. For three days I didn’t hear from him. Then he asked 
me to come to see him. I went, and he gave me back those things.’* 
She pointed to the manila envelope. “He told me to tell you that he 
would do it. To arrange it. That was all.** 

“That was a good deal,’* I said. 

“Yes,” she said, and moved past me toward the door. She put her 
hand to the knob, turned it, and drew the door ajar. She looked 
back at me, and said, “Yes, it was a good deal.** 

And went out. 

But she stood with her hand on the doorjamb. “One thing,** she 
said. 

“What?” I asked. 

“A favor,** she said, “to me. Before you ever use, those things, 
those papers, show them to Judge Irwin. Give him a chance. At 
least, a diance.** 

I agreed to that. 

The big black Cadillac, the hood glistening dully under the 
street lamps—as I could see even from the back seat— eased down the 
street, making its expensive whisper under the boughs which had 
new leaves on them, for it was early April now. Then we got to a 
street where there were not any nice trees arching over, 

“Here,** I said, “that place on the right, just beyond that grocery.’* 
Sugar-Boy put the Cadillac up to the curb, like a mother laying 
Little Precious down with a last kiss. Then he ran around to open 
the door for the Boss, but the Boss was already on the curb. I un* 
coiled myself and stood beside him. “This is the joint,** I remarked, 
and started in. 

For we were going to see Adam Stanton. 

269 



When I told the Boss that Adam Stanton would take the job and 
that he had sent me a message to arrange things, the Boss had said, 
‘*WeU/’ Then he had looked at me from toe to crown, and said, 
••You must be Svengali.” 

''Yeah,” I had said, ‘1 am Svengali." 

“I want to see him,*’ the Boss had said. 

®1*11 try to get him up here.” 

“Get him up here?” the Boss had said. “I’ll go there. Hell, he’s 
doing me a favor.” 

“Well, you’re the Governor, aren’t you?” 

“You’re damned right I am,” the Boss had said, “but he is Doc 
Stanton. When do we go?” 

I had told him it would have to be at night, that you never could 
catch him except at night. 

So here we were, at night, entering the door of the crummy apart* 
ment house, climbing the dark stairs, stumbling over the kiddie car, 
inhaling the odor of cabbage and diapers. “He sure picked himself 
a place to live,” the Boss said. 

“Yeah,” I agreed, “and Ipts of folks can't figure out why.” 

“I reckon I can,” the Boss said. 

And as I wondered whether he could or not, we reached the door, 
and I knocked, entered, and confronted the level eyes of Adam 
Stanton. 

For a half moment, while Sugar-Boy was easing in, and I was shut- 
ting the door, Adam and the Boss simply took each other in, with- 
out a word. Then I turned and said, “Governor Stark, this is Dr. 
Stanton.” 

The Boss took a step forward and put out his right hand. Per- 
haps I imagined it, but I thought I noticed a shade of hesitation be- 
fore Adam took it. And the Boss must have noticed it, too, for when 
Adam did put out his hand, the Boss, in the middle of the shake, 
before any other word had been spoken, grinned suddenly, and said, 
“See, boy, it’s not as bad as you thought, it won't kill you.” 

Then, by God, Adam grinned, too. 

Then I said, “And this is Mr. O’Shean,” and Sugar-Boy lurched 
forward and put out one of his stubby arms with a hand hanging 
on the end of it like a stuffed glove, and twisted his face and began, 
“I'm pl-pl-pl-pl—” 

“I’m glad to know you,” Adam said. Then I saw his glance pick 
up the bulge under Sugar-Boy’s left armpit. He turned to the Boss. 
“So this is one of your gunmen I've hearci about?” he said, definitely 
not grinning now. 


270 



Hell, the Boss said, Sugar-Boy just carries that for fun. Sugar- 
Boy is just a pal. Ain^t anybody can drive a car like Sugar-Boy.’* 

Sugar-Boy was looking at him like a dog you’ve just scratched on 
the head. 

Adam stood there, and didn’t reply. For a second I thought the 
deal was about to blow up. Then Adam said, very formally, “Won’t 
you gentlemen have seats?” 

We did. 

Sugar-Boy sneaked one of his lumps of sugar out of the side 
pocket of his coat, put it into his mouth, and began to suck it, with 
his fey Irish cheeks drawn in and his eyes blurred with bliss. 

Adam waited, sitting straight up in his chair. 

The Boss, leaning back in one of the overstuffed wrecks, didn’t 
seem to be in any hurry. But he finally said, “Well, Doc, what do 
you think of it?” 

“Of what?” Adam demanded. 

“Of my hospital?” 

“I think it will do the people of the state some good,” he said. 
Then added, “And get you some votes.” 

“You can forget about the vote side of it,” the Boss said. “There 
are lots of ways to get votes, son.” 

“‘So I understand,” Adam said. Then he handed the Boss another 
big chunk of silence to admire. 

The Boss admired it awhile, then said, “Yeah, it’ll do some good. 
But not too much unless you take over.” 

“I won’t stand any interference,” Adam said, and bit the sentence 
oE 

“Don’t worry,” the Boss laughed. “I might fire you, boy, but I 
wouldn’t interfere.” 

“If that is a threat,” Adam said, and the pale-blue blaze flickered 
up in his eyes, “you have wasted your time by coming here. You 
know my opinions of this administration. They have been no secret. 
And they will be no secret in the future. You understand that?” 

“Doc,” the Boss said, “Doc, you just don’t understand politics. 
I’ll be frank with you. I could run this state and ten more like it 
with you howling on every street corner like a hound with a sore 
tail. No offense. But you just don't understand.” 

“I understand some things,” Adam said grimly, and the jaw set. 

“And some you don’t, just like I don’t, but one thing I under- 
stand and you don’t is what makes the mare go. I can make the 
mare go. And one more thing, now we are taking down our hair—” 
The Boss suddenly stopped, cocked his head, leered at Adam, then 
demanded, “Or are we?” 


271 



“You said there was one more thing,'^ Adam replied, ignoring the 
question, sitting straight in his chair. 

“Yeah, one more thing. But look here, Doc— you know Hugh 
Miller?“ 

“Yes,“ Adam said, “yes, I know him.” 

“Well, he was in with me— yeah. Attorney General— and he re- 
signed. And you know why?” But he went on without waiting for 
the answer. “He resigned because he wanted to keep his little hands 
clean. He wanted the bricks but he just didn't know somebody has 
to paddle in the mud to make 'em. He was like somebody that just 
loves beefsteak but just can't bear to go to a slaughter pen because 
there are some bad, rough men down there who aren't animal lovers 
and who ought to be reported to the S.P.C.A. Well, he resigned.” 

I watched Adam’s face. It was white and stony, as though carved 
out of some slick stone. He was like a man braced to hear what the 
jury foreman was going to say. Or what tlie doctor was going to say. 
Adam must have seen a lot of faces like that in his time. He must 
have had to look into them and tell them what he had to tell. 

“Yeah,” the Boss said, “he resigned. He was one of those guys 
wants everything and wants everything two ways at once. You know 
the kind. Doc?” 

He flicked a look over at Adam, like a man iflicking a fly over by 
the willows in the trout stream. But there wasn't any strike. 

“Yeah, old Hugh— he never learned that you can't have every- 
thing. That you can have mighty little. And you never have any- 
thing you don't make. Just because he inherited a little money and 
the name Miller he thought you could have everything. Yeah, and 
he wanted the one last damned thing you can’t inherit. And you 
know what it is?” He stared at Adam’s face. 

“What?” Adam said, after a long pause. 

“Goodness. Yeah, just plain, simple goodness. Well you can’t in- 
herit that from anybody. You got to make it, Doc. If you want it. 
And you got to make it out of badness. Badness. And you know 
why. Doc?” He raised his bulk up in the broken-down wreck of an 
overstuffed chair he was in, and leaned forward, his hands on his 
knees, his elbows cocked out, his head outthrust and the hair com- 
ing down to his eyes, and stared into Adam’s face. “Out of badness,” 
he repeated. “And you know why? Because there isn’t anything else 
to make it out of.” Then, sinking back into the wreck, he asked, 
softly, “Did you know that. Doc?” 

Adam didn't say a word. 

Then the Boss asked, softer still, almost whispering, ‘Did you 
know that. Doc?” 


272 



Adam wet his lips and said, “ There is one question I should like 
to ask you. It is this. If, as you say, there is only the bad to start 
with, and the good must be made from the bad, then how do you 
ever know what the good is? How do you even recognize the good? 
Assuming you have made it from the bad. Answer me that.” 

“Easy, Doc, easy,” the Boss said. 

^‘Well, answer it.” 

“You just make it up as you go along.” 

“Make up what?” 

“The good,” the Boss said, “What the hell else are we talking 
about. Good with a capital G.” 

“So you make it up as you go along?” Adam repeated gently. 

“What the hell else you think folks been doing for a million 
years. Doc? When your great-great-grandpappy climbed down out 
of the tree, he didn*t have any more notion of good or bad, or right 
and wrong, than the hoot owl that stayed up in the tree. Well, he 
climbed down and he began to make Good up as he went along. He 
made up what he needed to do business. Doc. And what he made 
up and got everybody to mirate on as good and right was always 
jcist a couple of jumps behind what he needed to do business on. 
That’s why things change, Doc. Because what folks claim is right 
is always just a couple of jumps short of what they need to do busi- 
ness. Now an individual, one fellow, he will slop doing business 
because he’s got a notion of what is right, and he is a hero. But 
folks in general, which is society. Doc, is never going to stop doing 
business. Society is just going to cook up a new notion of what is 
right. Society is sure not ever going to commit suicide. At least, not 
that way and of a purpose. And that is a fact. Now ain’t it?” 

“It isf * Adam said, 

“You’re damned right it is, Doc. And right is a lid you put on 
something and some of the things under the lid look just like some 
of the things not under the lid, and there never was any notion of 
what was right if you put it down on folks in general that a lot of 
them didn’t start squalling because they just couldn’t do any human 
business under that kind of right. Hell, look at when folks couldn’t 
get a divorce. Look at all the good women got beat and the good 
men got nagged and couldn’t do any human damned thing about 
it. Then, all of a sudden, a divorce got to be right. What next, you 
don’t k’lv.iw. Nor me. But I do know this.” He stopped, leaned for- 
ward again, the elbows again cocked out. 

“What?” Adam demanded. 

“This. I’m not denying there’s got to be a notion of right to get 
business done, but by G^, any particular notion at any particular 

27S 



time will sooner or later get to be just like a stopper put tight in a 
bottle of water and thrown in a hot stove the way we kids used to 
do at school to hear the bang. The steam that blows the bottle and 
scares the teacher to wet her drawers is just the human business that 
is going to get done, and it will blow anything you put it in if you 
seal it tight, but you put it in the right place and let it get out in a 
certain way and it will run a freight engine.’’ He sank oack again 
into the chair, his eyelids sagging nov/, but the eyes watchful, and 
the hair down over his forehead like an ambush. 

Adam got up suddenly, and walkec^ across the room. He stopped 
in front of the dead fireplace, with old ashes still in it, and some 
half-burned paper, though spring was on us, and there hadn’t been 
any fire for a time. The window was up, and the night air came 
into the room, with a smell different from the diaper-and-cabbage 
smell, a smell of damp grass and the leaves hanging down from the 
arched trees in the dark, a smell that definitely did not belong there 
in that room. And all of a sudden I remembered once how into a 
room where I was sitting one night, a big pale apple-green moth, 
big as a bullbat and soft and silent as a dream— a Luna moth, the 
name is, and it is a wonderful name— came flying in. Somebody had 
left the screen door open, and the moth drifted in over the tables 
and chairs like a big pale-green, silky, live leaf, drifting and dancing 
along without any wind under the electric light where a Luna moth 
certainly did not belong. The night air coming into the room now 
was like that. 

Adam leaned an elbow on the wooden mantelpiece where you 
could write your name in the dust and the books were stacked and 
the old, dregs-crusted coffee cup sat. He stood there as though he 
were all by himself. 

The Boss was watching him. 

*Teah,” the Boss said, watchful, “it will run a freight engine 
and—” 

But Adam broke in, “What are you trying to convince me of? 
You don’t have to convince me of anything. Fve told you I’d take 
the job. That's alll” He glared at the bulky man in the big chair, 
and said, “That’s all! And my reasons are my own.” 

The Boss gave a slow smile, shifted his weight in the chair, and 
said, “Yeah, your reasons are your own. Doc. But I just thought you 
might want to know something about mine. Since we’ie going to 
do business together.” 

“I am going to run the hospital,” Adam said, and added with 
curling lip, “If you call that doing business together.” 

The Boss laughed out loud. Then he got up from the chair. 

^74 



''Doc/* he said, ‘‘just don't you worry. 111 keep your little mitts 
clean. Ill keep you clean all over, Doc. Ill put you in that beauti- 
ful, antiseptic, sterile, six-million-dollar hospital, and wrap you in 
cellophane, untouched by human hands.” He stepped to Adam, 
and slapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t you worry, Doc,” he said. 

‘1 can take care of myself,” Adam afErmed, and looked down at 
the hand on his shoulder. 

“Sure you can. Doc,” the Boss said. He removed his hand from 
the shoulder. Then his tone changed, suddenly businesslike and 
calm. “You will no doubt want to see all the plans which have been 
drawn up. They are subject to your revision after you consult with 
the architects. Mr. Todd, of Todd and Waters, will come to see you 
about it. And you can start picking your staff. It is all your baby.” 

He turned away and picked up his hat from the piano top. He 
swung back toward Adam and gave him a summarizing look, from 
top to toe and back. “You’re a great boy, Doc,” he said, “and don’t 
let ’em tell you different.” 

Then he wheeled to the door, and went out before Adam could 
say a word. If there was any word he had to say. 

Sugar-Boy and I followed. We didn’t stop to say good night and 
thanks for the hospitality. That just didn’t seem to be in the cards. 
At the door, however, I looked back and said, “So long, boy,” but 
Adam didn’t answer. 

Down in the street, the Boss hesitated on the curb, beside the car. 
Then he said, “You all go on. I’m walking.” He turned up the 
street, tow^ard town, past the crummy apartment house and thu' 
little grocery and the boarding houses and the shotgun bungalows 

Just as I climbed in beside Sugar-Boy, in the place the Boss always 
took, I heard the burst of music from the apartment house. The 
window was open and the music was very loud. Adam was beating 
the hell out of that expensive piano, and filling the night air with 
racket like Niagara Falls. 

We rolled down the street, and passed the Boss, who, walking 
along with his head down, didn’t pay us any mind. We pulled on 
into one of the good streets with the trees arching overhead and the 
new leaves looking black against the sky, or pale, almost whitish, 
where the rays of a street lamp struck them. We were beyond the 
sound of Adam’s music now. 

I lay back and closed my eyes and took the sway and dip of the 
car, which w^as soft and easy, and thought of the Boss and Adam 
Stanton facing each other across that room. I had never expected to 
see that. But it had happened. 

I had found the truth, I had dug the truth up out of the ash pile, 

275 



the garbage heap, the kitchen midden, the bone yard, and had sent 
that little piece o£ truth to Adam Stanton. I couldn’t cut the truth 
to match his ideas. Well, he’d have to make his ideas match the 
truth. That is what all of us historical researchers believe. The truth 
shall make you free. 

So I lay back and thought of Adam and the truth. And of the 
Boss and what he had said the truth was. The good was. The right 
was. And lying there, lulled in the Cadillac, I wondered if he be- 
lieved what he had said. He had said that you have to make the 
good out of the bad because that is all you have got to make it out 
of. Well, he had made some good out of some bad. The hospital. 
The Willie Stark Hospital, which was going to be there when 
Willie Stark was dead and gone. As Willie Stark had said. Now if 
Willie Stark believed that you always had to make the good out of 
the bad, why did he get so excited when Tiny just wanted to make 
a logical little deal with the hospital contract? Why did he get so 
heated up just because Tiny’s brand of Bad might get mixed in 
the raw materials from which he was going to make some Good? 
’*Can’t you understand?" the Boss had demanded of me, grabbing 
my lapel. ''Can’t you undentand, either? I’m building that place, 
the best in the country, the best in the world, and a bugger like 
Tiny is not going to mess with it, and I’m going to call it the Willie 
Stark Hospital and it will be there a long time after I’m dead and 
gone and you are dead and gone and all those sons-of-bitches are 
dead and gone—" That was scarcely consistent. It was not at all 
consistent. I would have to ask the Boss about it sometime. 

I had asked the Boss about something else once. The night after 
the impeachment blew up. The night when the great crowd that 
had poured into town stood on the lawn of the Capitol, trampling 
the flower bedb beneath the great frock-coated and buckskin-clad 
and sword-bearing bronze statues which were History. When out of 
the tall dark doorway of the Capitol, under the blue glares of the 
spotlights Willie Stark walked out to stand at the top of the high 
steps, heavy and slow-looking, blinking in the light. He stood there, 
the only person up there on the wide expanse of stone, seeming to 
be lonely and lost against the mass of stone which reared behind 
him, standing there blinking. The long chant of "Willie— Willie— 
we want Willie," which had swelled up from the crowd, stopped as 
he came out. For an instant as he waited, there wasn’t a sound. 
Then suddenly there was the great roar from the crowd, without 
any words. It was a long time before he lifted his hand to stop it. 
Then the roar died away as though under the pressure of his slowly 
descending hand. 


276 



Then he said, “They tried to ruin me, but they are ruined.” 

And the roar came again, and died away, under the hand. 

He said, “They tried to ruin me because they did not like what 
I have done. Do you like what I have done?” 

The roar came, and died. 

He said, “I tell you what I am going to do. I am going to build 
a hospital. The biggest and the finest money can buy. It will belong 
to you. Any man or woman or child who is sick or in pain can go 
in those doors and know that all will be done that man can do. To 
heal sickness. To ease pain. Free. Not as charity. But as a right. It 
is your right. Do you hear? It is your righti” 

The roar came. 

He said, “And it is your right that every child shall have a com- 
plete education. That no person aged and infirm shall want or beg 
for bread. That the man who produces something shall be able to 
carry it to market without miring to the hub, without toll. That no 
poor man’s house or land shall be taxed. That the rich men and the 
great companies that draw wealth from this state shall pay this state 
a fair share. That you shall not be deprived of hopel” 

The roar came. As it died away, Anne Stanton, who had her arm 
through mine and was pressed close by the weight of the crowd, 
asked, “Does he mean that, Jack? Really?” 

“He’s done a good deal of it already,” I said. 

“Yes,” Adam Stanton said, and his lips curled back with the 
words, “yes—that’s his bribe.” 

I didn’t answer— and I didn’t know what my answer would have 
been— for Willie Stark, up there on the high steps, was saying, “I 
will do those things. So help me God. I shall live in your will and 
your right. And if any man tries to stop me in the fulfilling of that 
right and that will 111 break ,him. Ill break him like that!” He 
spread his arms far apart, shoulder-high, and crashed the right fist 
into the left palm. “Like thatl 111 smite him. Hip and thigh, shin- 
bone and neckbone, kidney punch, rabbit punch, uppercut, and 
solar plexus. And I don’t care what I hit him with. Or how!” 

Then, in the midst of the roar, I leaned toward Anne’s ear and 
yelled, “He damned well means that.” 

I didn’t know whether or not Anne heard me. She was watching 
the man up there on the steps, who was leaning forward toward the 
aowd, with bulging eyes, saying, “I’ll hit him. I’ll hit him with that 
meat axl” 

Then he suddenly stretched his arms above his head, the coat 
sleeves drawn tight to expose the shirt sleeves, the hands spread and 
clutching. He screamed, “Gimme that meat axl” 

277 



And the crowd roared. 

He brought both hands slowdy down, for silence. 

Then said, “Your vdll is my strength.” 

And after a moment of silence said, “Your need is my justice.** 

Then, “That is all.” 

He turned and walked slowly back into the tall doorway of thg 
Capitol, into the darkness there, and disappeared. The roar was 
swelling and heaving in the air now, louder than ever, and I felt it 
inside of me, too, swelling like blood and victory. 1 stared into the 
darkness of tlie great doorway of the Capitol, where he had gone, 
while the roar kept on. 

Anne Stanton was tugging at my arm. She asked me, “Does he 
mean that, Jack?” 

“Hell,” 1 said, and heard the savage tone in my own voice, “hell, 
how the hell do I know?” 

Adam Stanton's lip curled and he said, “Justice! He used that 
word.” 

And suddenly, for the flicker of an instant, I hated Adam Stan- 
ton. 

I told them I had to go, which was true, and worked my way 
around through the edge of the crowd, to the police cordon. Then 
I went around to the back of the Capitol, where I joined the Boss, 

Late that night, back at the Mansion, after he had thrown Tiny 
and his rabble out of the study, I asked him the question. I asked, 
“Did you mean what you said?” 

Propped back on the big leather couch, he stared at me, and de* 
manded, “What?” 

“What you said,” I replied, “tonight. You said your strength was 
their will. You said your justice was their need. All of that.” 

He kept on staring at me, his eyes bulging, his stare grappling 
and probing into me. 

“You said that,” I said. 

“God damn it,” he exclaimed, violently, still staring at me, “God 
damn it~” he clenched his right fist and struck himself twice on the 
chest— “God damn it, there’s something inside you— there’s some- 
thing inside you—” 

He left the words hanging there. He turned his eyes from me and 
nared moodily into the fire. I didn’t press my question. 

Well, that was how it had been when I asked him a question, a 
long time back. Now I had a new question to ask him: If he be- 
lieved that you had to make the good out of the bad because there 
wasn’t anything else to make it out of, why did he stir up such a 
fuss about keeping Tiny’s hands off the Willie Stark Hospital? 

278 



There was another little question. One I would have to ask Anne 
Stanton. It had come to me that night down on the pier at the 
mist-streaked river when Anne said that she had gone up to Adam 
Stanton’s apartment ‘'to talk to him about it”— about the offer of 
the directorship of the Willie Stark Hospital. She had said that to 
me, and at the moment, it had disturbed like an itch that comes 
when your hands are full and you can’t scratch. I hadn’t, in the 
press of the moment, defined what was disturbing, what was the 
question. I had simply pushed the whole pot to the back of the stove 
and left it to simmer. And there it simmered for weeks. But one 
day, all at once, it boiled over and I knew what the question was: 
How had Anne Stanton known about the hospital offer? 

One thing was a cinch. I hadn’t told her. 

Perhaps Adam had told her, and then she had gone up there "to 
talk to him about it.” So I went to see Adam, who was furiously 
deep in work, his usual practice and teaching, and in addition, the 
work on the hospital plans, who hadn’t been able, he said, to touch 
the piano in almost a month, whose eyes fixed on me glacially out 
of a face now thin from sleeplessness, and who treated me with a 
courtesy too chromium-plated to be given to the friend of your 
youth. It took some doing, on my part, in the face of that courtesy, 
to get my nerve up to ask him the question. But I finally asked it. I 
said, “Adam, that first time Anne came up to talk to you about— 
about the job— you know, the hospital— had you told-r*’ 

And he said, with a voice like a scalpel, *1 don’t want to dis- 
cuss it.” 

But I had to know. So I said, “Had you told her about the 
proposition?” 

“No,” he said, “and I said I didn’t want to discuss it.” 

“O.K.,” I heard myself saying, in a flat voice which wasn’t quite 
my own. “O.K.” 

He looked sharply at me, then rose from his chair and took a step 
toward me. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m sorry, Jack. I’m on edge.” He 
shook his head slightly like a man trying to shake the fog of sleep 
out. “Not been getting enough shut-eye,” he said. He took another 
step to me— I was leaning against the mantel— and looked into my 
face again and laid his hand on my arm, saying, “I’m really sorry, 
Jack— talking that way-but I didn’t tell Anne anything-and I’m 
sorry.” 

“Forget it,” I said. 

“I’ll forget it,” he agreed, smiling wintrily, tapping my arm, “i! 
you will.” 

“Sure,” I said, “sure, I’ll forget it. Yeah, I’ll forget it. It didn’t 

279 



amount to anything anyway. Who told her. I guess I told her my* 
self. It just slipped my mind that— ' 

“I mean forget about the way I acted,” he corrected me, “blowing 
off the way I did.” 

"'Oh,” I said, “oh, that. Sure, 111 forget it.” 

Then he was peering inio my face, with a question darkening his 
eyes. He didn't say anything for a moment. Then, “What did you 
want to know for?” 

“Nothing,” I replied, “nothing. Just idle curiosity. But I recollect 
now. I told her myself. Yeah, and I guess maybe I shouldn’t. I didn’t 
mean to get her into it. Just let it slip. I didn’t mean to cause any 
ruckus. I didn’t think—” And all the while that cold, unloving part 
of the mind— that maiden aunt, that washroom mirror the drunk 
stai'es into, that still small voice, that maggot in the cheese of your 
self-esteem, that commentator on the ether nightmare, that death’s- 
head of lipless rationality at your every feast— all that while that 
part of the mind was saying: You're making it worse, your lying is 
jtist making it worse, can't you shut up, you blabbermouth! 

And Adam, with whitening face, was saying, “There wasn’t any 
ruckus. As you call it.” 

But I couldn’t stop, as when your car comes to the glare ice over 
the brow of the hill and hits it before you can get on the brake, and 
you feel the beautiful free glide and spin of the skid and almost 
burst out laughing, it is so fine and free, like boyhood. I was saying, 
“—not any ruckus exactly— just I’m sorry I sicked her on you— I 
didn’t want to cause any trouble— it was just that—” 

“I don’t want to discuss it,” he said, and the jaw snapped shut, 
and he swung from me and went to stand on the other side of the 
room, very stiff and military. 

So I took my leave, and the chromium-plated courtesy was so 
bright and cold that my, “Be seeing you, boy,” stuck in my throat, 
like old corn bread. 

But he hadn’t told Anne Stanton. And I hadn’t told her. Who 
had told her? And at that point I could see no answer except that 
there had been some loose talk, some leak, and the news had got 
around. I guess I took that answer— if I really took it— because it was 
the easiest answer for me to take. But I knew, deep down, that the 
Boss wasn’t given to loose talk except when he wanted to talk loose, 
and he would have known that one sure way to ruin the chance ot 
ever getting Adam Stanton would be to let the gossip mill start 
grinding on the topic. I knew that all right, but my mind just closed 
up like a clam when that shadow came floating over, A clam has to 
live, hasn’t it? 


280 



But I did find out who had told Anne Stanton. 

It was a beautiful morning in middle May, and just that morn, 
ing, at that hour, about nine-thirty, there was still some last touch 
of spring-by that time you had almost forgotten there had been a 
spring-a kind of milkiness in the air, and way off yonder, from my 
window, I could see a little white haze on the river, milky too. The 
season was like the fine big-breasted daughter of some poor spavined 
share-cropper, a girl popping her calico but still having a waist, 
with pink cheeks and bright eyes and just a little perspiration at 
the edge of her tow hair (which would be platinum blond in some 
circles), but you see her and know that before long she will be a bag 
of bone and gristle with a hag face like a rusted brush hook. But 
she looks good enough to scare you now, if you really look at her, 
and that morning the season still had that look and feel even if you 
did know that by the end of June everything would be bone and 
( gristle and hag face and a sweat-sticky sheet to wake up on and a 
taste in your mouth like old brass. But now the leaves on the trees 
hung down thick and fleshy and had not begun to curl yet. I could 
look down from my office window on the great bolls and tufts and 
swollen globes of green which were the trees of the Capitol grounds 
seen from the height of my window, and think of the deep inner 
maze ot green in one of the big trees and of the hollow shadowy 
chambers near the trunk, where maybe a big cantankerous jay 
would be perched for a moment like a barbarous potentate staring 
with black, glittering, beady eyes into the green tangle. Then he 
would dive soundlessly off the bough and break through the green 
screen and be gone into the bright sunshine where suddenly he 
would be screaming his damned head off, I could look down and 
think of myself inside that hollow inner chamber, in the aqueous 
green light, inside the great globe of the tree, and not even a jay* 
bird in there with me now, for he had gone, and no chance of seeing 
anything beyond the green leaves, they were so thick, and no sound 
except, way off, the faint mumble of traffic, like the ocean chewing^ 
its gums. 

It was a fine, peaceful, beautiful thought and I took my eyes off 
the green below and lay back in my swivel chair, with my heels on 
the desk, and shut my eyes and thought of swooping down and 
bursting through the green to the sudden green quietness inside. I 
lay back with my eyes closed and listened to the electric fan, which 
was humming like a dream, and could almost feel the wonderful 
swoop ctnd then the poise inside. It was a fine idea. If you had 
wings. 

Then I heard the racket outside in the reception room, and 

281 



opened my eyes. Somebody had slammed a door. Then I caught the 
whir of a passage and Sadie Burke swung into my ken, making a 
great curve through my open door, and, all in one motion, slam- 
ming it behind her and charging on in my direction. She stood in 
frdnt of my desk and fought for air enough to say what she had to 
Say. 

It was just like old times. I hadn't seen her worked up that much 
since the morning when she had found out about the Nordic 
Nymph who had skated her way into the Boss's bed up in Chicago 
a long time back. That morning she had exploded out of the Boss’s 
door, and had described a parabola into my office, with her black 
chopped-off hair wild and her face like a riddled plaster-of-Paris 
mask of Medusa except for the hot bituminous eyes, which were in 
full blaze with a bellows pumping the flame. 

Well, since that morning there had, no doubt, been plenty of 
occasions when Sadie and the Boss had not seen exactly eye to eye. 
The Boss had had everything from the Nordic Nymph to the house- 
hold-hints columnist on the Chronicle in his life, and Sadie hadn’t 
been exactly condoning— for Sadie did not have a condoning nature 
—out a peculiar accommodation had finally been reached. *‘Damn 
him,” Sadie had said to me, “let him have his sluts, let him have 
them. But he’ll always come back to me. He knows he can’t get 
along without me. He knows he can’t.” And she had added grimly, 
“And he better not try.” So, with her fury and her God~damns and 
her satire and her tongue-lashings— and she had a tongue like a 
cat-o*-nine-tails— and even with her rare bursts of dry-eyed grief, she 
seemed to take a kind of pleasure, wry and twisted enough God 
knows, in watching the development of the pattern in each new-old 
ease, in watching the slut get bounced and the Boss come back to 
stand before her, grinning and heavy and sure and patient, to take 
his tongue-lashing. A long time back she herself had probably 
ceased to believe in the tongue-lashing or even to think what she 
was saying. The juicy epithets had long since lost their fine savor 
And a strident mechanical quality had crept into the rendering of 
the scene. Like a stuck phonograph record or a chicken-hungry 
preacher getting over the doxology. The words came but her mind 
wasn’t on them. 

But it was different that fine May morning. It was like old times, 
all right, with her bosom heaving and the needle of the steam gauge 
pricking deep into the red on the dial. Then she blew the plug. 

“He’s done it,” she blew, “he’s done it again— and I swear—” 
'Done what?” I demanded, though I knew perfectly well what he 
had done. He had another slut. 

282 



‘‘He's two-timing me/’ she said 

I lay back in my swivel chair and looked at her. The bright morn- 
ing light was hitting her face square and without pity, but the eyes 
were magnificent. 

“The bastard/' she said, “he’s two-timing mel” 

“Now, Sadie/' I said, lying back in my chair and sighting at her 
over the toes of my shoes crossed on the desk, “we went into that 
arithmetic a long time back. He’s not two-timing you. He’s two- 
timing Lucy. He may be one-timing you, or four-timing you. But it 
can’t be two-timing.” I was watching her eyes, and just saying that 
to see if it was possible to put a little more snap into them. It was^ 

For she said, “You-you-” Then words failed her. 

“Me what?” I defended myself, 

“You-you and your high-toned friends-what do they know- 
what do they know about anything— and you’ve got to mix them in.” 

“What are you talking about?” 

“I may not be high-toned and maybe I did live in a shack but it 
hadn't been for me he wouldn’t be Governor this minute and he 
knows it and she better not get gay, for high-toned or not, I’ll show 
her. By God, I’ll show her I” 

“What the hell are you talking about?” 

“You know what Pm talking about,” she affirmed, and leaned 
over the desk top toward me, shaking her finger at me, “and you sit 
there and smile that way and think you are so high-toned. If you 
were a man you’d get up and go in there and knock hell out of him. 
1 thought she was yours. Or maybe he’s fixed you up, too. Maybe 
he’s fixed you up like he fixed up that doctor,” She leaned farther 
toward me. “Maybe he’s making you director of a hospital. Yeah, 
what's he making you director of?” 

Under the flood of words and the savage finger and the snapping 
eyes, I jerked myself forward, dropped my feet to the floor with a 
crash, and lunged up to stand before her, while the blood pounded 
in my head to make me dizzy, as it does when you rise suddenly, 
and little red flecks danced before me and the words kepi on. Then 
the words stopped on her question. 

“Are you saying,” I began firmly, ‘’that— that— ” I had been about 
to pronounce the name of Anne Stanton,’ for the name itself had 
been quite clearly in my mind, as though spelled out on a billboard, 
but all at once the name stuck in my throat and with surprise 1* dis- 
covered that I could not say it. So I continued, “—that she— she— ” 

But Sadie Burke was looking straight into my mind— at least, } 
had that feeling— and quick as a boxer she jabbed that name at me, 
“Yeah, she, she, that Stanton girl, Anne Stantonl” 

285 



I looked at Sadie in the face for a moment and felt so sorry for 
her I could cry. That was what surprised me. I felt so sorry for 
Sadie. Then I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t even feel sorry for iry< 
self. I felt as wooden as a wooden Indian, and I remember being 
surprised to discover that my legs worked perfectly even if they were 
wooden, and were walking directly toward the hatrack, where my 
right arm, even if it was wooden, reached out to pick up the old 
Panama which hung there and put it on my head, and my legs then 
walked straight out the door and across the long reception room 
over the carpet which was deep and soft as the turf of a shaven 
lawn in spring and walked on out the door across the ringing 
marble slabs. 

And out into a world which seemed bigger than it had ever 
seemed before. It seemed forever down the length of white, sun- 
glittering concrete which curled and swooped among the bronze 
statues and brilliant flower beds shaped like stars and crescents, and 
forever across the green lawn to the great swollen bulbs of green 
which were the trees, and forever up into the sky, where the sun 
poured down billows and surges of heat like crystalline lava to en- 
gulf you, for the last breath of spring was gone now and gone for 
good, the fine, big-breasted girl popping the calico, with the face 
like peaches and cream and the tiny, dewy drop of perspiration at 
the edge of the tow head of hair, she was gone for good, too, and 
everything from now on out was bone and gristle and the hag face 
like a rusty brush hook, and green scum on the shrunk pool around 
which the exposed earth cracks and scales like a gray scab. 

It was a source of perpetual surprise to find how well the legs 
worked carrying me down the white concrete of the drive, and how 
even if it was forever down the drive and past the trees I was finally 
past them and moving down the street as though sustained in a 
runnel of crystalline lava. I looked with the greatest curiosity at the 
faces which I saw but found nothing beautiful or remarkable in 
them and was not assured of their reality. For it takes the greatest 
effort to believe in their reality and to believe in their reality you 
must believe in your own, but to believe in your own you must be* 
lieve in theirs, but to believe m theirs you must believe in your 
own—one-two, one-two, one-two, like feet marching. But if you have 
no feet to march with. Or if they are wooden. But I looked down at 
them and they were marching, one-two, one-two. 

They marched a long time. But at the end of forever they 
brought me to a door. Then the door opened, and there, with the 
cool, white-shadowy room behind her, wearing a pale-blue, cool- 
crisp linen dress, her bare white long small arms hanging straight 

284 



down against the pale blue, was Anne Stanton. I knew that it was 
Anne Stanton, though I had not looked into her face. I had looked 
into the other faces— all the faces I had met— I had looked into them 
with the greatest frankness and curiosity. But now I did not look 
into hers. 

Then I looked into her face. She met my gaze quite steadily. I did 
not say anything. And I did not need to. For, looking at me, she 
slowly noddedu 



Chapter Seven 


AFTER my visit to Anne Stanton's apartment that morning in late 
May, I was out of town for a while, about eight days. I left her 
apartment that morning and went down to the bank and drew out 
some money and got my car out of the garage and packed a bag and 
was headed out. I was headed out down a long bone-white road, 
straight as a string and smooth as glass and glittering and wavering 
in the heat and humming under the tires like a plucked nerve. I was 
doing seventy-five but I never seemed to catch up with the pool 
which seemed to be over the road just this side of the horizon. 
Then, after a while, the sun was in my eyes, for I was driving west 
So I pulled the sun screen down and squinted and put the throttle 
to the floor. And kept on moving west. For West is where we all 
plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and 
the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the 
letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you 
look down at the blade in your hand and see the blood on it. It is 
where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide 
of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar’s gold in 
them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It 
is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go. 

It was just where I went. 

The second day I was in Texas. I was traveling through the part 
where the flat-footed, bilious, frog-stkker-toting Baptist biscuit-eat- 
ers live. Then I was traveling through the part where the crook- 
legged, high-heeled, gun-wearing, spick-killing, callous-rumped sons 
of the range live and crowd the drugstore on Saturday night and 
then all go round the corner to see episode three of “Vengeance on 
Vinegar Creek," starring Gene Autry as Borax Pete. But over both 
parts, the sky was tall hot brass by day and black velvet by night, 
and Coca Cola is all a man needs to live on. Then I was traveling 
through New Mexico, which is a land of total and magnificent 
emptiness with a little white filling station flung down on the sand 

286 



like a sun-bleached cow skull by the trail, with far to the north a 
valiant remnant of the heroes of the Battle of Montmartre in a Iasi 
bivouac wearing huaraches and hammered silver and trying to 
strike up conversations with Hcpis on street corners. Then Arizona, 
which is grandeur and the slow incredulous stare of sheep, until you 
hit the Mojave. You cross the Mojave at night and even at night 
your breath rasps your gullet as though you were a sword swallower 
who had got hold of a hack-saw blade by mistake, and in the dark- 
ness the hunched rock and towering cactus loom at you with the 
shapes of a visceral, Freudian nightmare. 

Then California. 

Then Long Beach, which is the essence of California. I know be- 
cause I have never seen any of California except Long Beach and 
so am not distracted by competing claims. I was in Long Beach 
thirty-six hours, and spent all of that time in a hotel room, except 
for forty minutes in a barbershop off the lobby of the hotel. 

I had had a puncture in the morning and so didn’t hit Long 
Beach till about evening. I drank a milk shake, bought a bottle of 
bourbon, and went up to my room. I hadn’t had a drop the whole 
trip. 1 hadn’t wanted a drop. I hadn’t wanted anything, except the 
hum of the motor and the lull of the car and I had had that. But 
now 1 knew that if I didn’t drink that bourbon, as soon as 1 shut 
my eyes to go to sleep the whole hot and heaving continent would 
begin charging at me out of the dark. So I took some, took a bath, 
and then lay on the bed, with my light off, watching the neon sign 
across the street flare on and off to the lime of my heartbeat, and 
drinking out of the bottle, which, between times, I set on the floor 
by the bed, 

I got a good sleep out of it. I didn’t wake up till noon the next 
day. Then I had breakfast sent up and a pile of newspapers, for it 
was Sunday. I read the papers, which proved that California was 
just like any place else, or wanted to think the same things about 
itself, and then I listened to the radio till the neon sign began to- 
flare on and off again to the time of my heartbeat, and then I or- 
dered up some food, ate it, and put myself to sleep again. 

The next morning I headed back. 

I was headed back and was no longer remembering the things 
which I had remembered coming out. 

For example. But I cannot give you an example. It was not so 
much any one example, any one event, which I recollected which 
was important, but the flow, the texture of the events, for meaning 
is never in the event but in the motion through event. Otherwise 
we could isolate an instant in the event and say that this is the event 

287 



itself. The meaning. But we cannot do that. For it is the motion 
which is important. And I was moving. I was moving West at 
seventy-five miles an hour, through a blur of million-dollar land- 
scape and heroic history, and I was moving back through time into 
my memory. They say the drowning man relives his life as he 
drowns. Well, I was not drowning in water, but I was drowning ir 
West. I drowned westward through the hot brass days and black 
Velvet nights. It took me seventy-eight hours to drown. For my body 
to sink down to the very bottom of West and lie in the motionless 
ooze of History, naked on a hotel bed in Long Beach, California. 

To the hum and lull of the car the past unrolled in my head like 
a film. It was like a showing of a family movie, the kind the adver- 
tisements tell you to keep so that you will have a record of the day 
Susie took her first little toddle and the day Johnny went off to 
kindergarten and the day you went up Pike’s Peak and the day of 
the picnic on the old home farm and the day you were made chief 
sales manager and bought your first Buick. The picture on the ad- 
vertisement always shows a dignified, gray-haired, kindly old gent, 
the kind you find on the whisky ad (or a gray-haired, kindly, sweet- 
faced old biddy), looking at the home movie and dreaming gently 
back over the years. Well, I was not gray-haired or dignified or 
kindly or sweet-faced, but I did have a showing of my home movie 
and dreamed gently back over the years. Therefore, if you have any 
home movies, I earnestly advise you to burn them and to be bap- 
tized to get born again. 

I dreamed gently back over the years. And the stocky man with 
the black coat and spectacles leaned over me as I sat with my 
colored crayons on the rug before the fire and he held me the candy 
and said, ‘‘J^st one bite, now, for supper’s almost ready.” And the 
woman with the pale hair and the blue eyes and the famished 
cheeks leaned over me and kissed me good night and left the sweet 
smell in the dark after the light was out. And Judge Irwin leaned 
at me in the gray dawn light, saying, ^Tou ought to have led that 
duck more. Jack. You got to lead a duck, son.” And Count Covelli 
sat straight in an expensive chair in the long white room and smiled 
from under his clipped black mustache and in one hand— the small- 
ish, strong hand which could make a man wince at its clasp— held 
the glass and with the other stroked the big cat on his knee. And 
there was the Young Executive with his hair laid on his round skull 
like taffy. And Adam Stanton and I drifted in the yawl, far out, 
while the white sails hung limp in the breathless air and the sea was 
like hot glass and the sun burned like a barn on the western 
horizon. And always there was Anne Stanton. 

?88 



Little girls wear white dresses with skirts that Hare out to show 
their funny little knees, and they wear round-toed black patent- 
leather slippers held by a one-button strap, and their white socks 
are held up by a dab of soap, and their hair hangs down the back 
in a braid with a blue ribbon on it. That was Anne Stanton and it 
was Sunday and she was going to church to sit still as a mouse and 
rub her tonguetip pensively at the place where she had just lost the 
tooth. And little girls sit on hassocks and lean their cheeks pensively 
against the dear father's knee while his hand toys with the silken 
locks and his voice reads beautiful words. That was Anne Stanton, 
And little girls are fraidy-cats and try the surf with one toe that first 
day in spring, and when the surf makes a surprising leap and 
splashes their thighs with the tingle and cold they squeal and jump 
up and down on thin little legs like stilts. That was Anne Stanton. 
Little girls get a smudge of soot on the end of the nose when they 
roast wieners over the campfire and you— for you are a big boy and 
do not get soot on your nose— point your finger and sing, ‘Tirty- 
Face, Dirty-Face, you are so dirty you are a disgracer’ And then one 
day when you sing it, the little girl doesn’t say a thing back the 
way she always had, but turns her big eyes on you, out of the thin 
little smooth face, and her lips quiver an instant so that you think 
she might cry even though she is too big for that now, and as the 
eyes keep fixed on you, the grin dries up on your face and you turn 
quickly away and pretend to be getting some more wood. That was 
Anne Stanton. 

All the bright days by the water with the gulls flashing high were 
Anne Stanton. But I didn’t know it. And all the not bright days 
with the eaves dripping or the squall driving in from the sea and 
with the fire on the hearth were Anne Stanton, too. But I didn’t 
know that, either. Then there came a time when the nights were 
Anne Stanton. But I knew that. 

That began the summer when I was twenty-one and Anne Stan- 
ton was seventeen. I was back from the University for vacation and 
I was a grown man who had been around, I got back from the Uni- 
versity late in the afternoon, had a quick swim, ate my dinner, and 
bolted off to the Stanton house to see Adam. I saw him sitting out 
on the gallery reading a book (Gibbon, I remember) in the long 
twilight. And I saw Anne. I was sitting in the swing with Adam, 
when she came out the door. I looked at her and knew that it had 
been a thousand years since I had last seen her back at Christmas 
when she had been back at the Landing on vacation from Miss 
Pound’s School. She certainly was not now a little girl wearing 
round-toed, black patent-leather, flat-heeled slippers held on by a 

289 



one-button strap and white socks held up by a dab of soap. She was 
wearing a white linen dress, cut very straight, and the straightness 
of the cut and the stiffness of the linen did nothing in the world but 
suggest by a kind of teasing paradox the curves and softnesses 
sheathed by the cloth. She had her hair in a knot on the nape of 
her neck, and a little white ribbon around her head, and she was 
smiling at me with a smile which I had known all my life but which 
was entirely new, and saying, “Hello, Jack," while I held her strong 
narrow hand in mine and knew that summer had come. 

It had come. And it was not like any summer which ever had 
been or was to be again. During the day I would be with Adam a 
lot, like always, and a lot of the time she would tag along, for that 
was the way it had been before, she’d tag along for she and Adam 
were very close. That summer Adam and I would play tennis in the 
early morning before the sun got high and hot, and she would come 
to the court with us and sit in the dappled shade of the mimosas 
and myrtles and watch Adam beat the tar out of me as usual and 
laugh like bird song and mountain brooks when I got my feet 
tangled up in my own racket. Then she might play me some, for 
she was pretty good and I was pretty bad. She was pretty good, all 
right, for a light-built girl, and had a lot of power in those small 
round arms, which flashed in the morning sun like wings. She was 
fast on her feet, too, and there would be the whipping skirt like a 
dancer’s, and the flicker of white shoes. But of those mornings I 
chiefly remember her far over yonder across the court, tiptoe, poised 
to serve, at the moment when the racket is back of her ribbon- 
bound head, with the pull of the arm lifting the right breast, and 
the left hand, from which the ball has just risen, still up, as though 
to pluck something out of the air, the face lifted gravely and in- 
tensely to the bright light and the wide sky and the absolute little 
white ball hung there like the spinning world in the middle of 
brilliance. Well, that is the classic pose, and it is too bad the Greeks 
didn’t play tennis, for if they had played tennis they would have 
put Anne Stanton on a Greek vase. But on second thought, I guess 
they would not have done it. That is the moment which, for all its 
poise, is too airy, too tiptoe, too keyed up. It is the moment just be- 
fore the stroke, before the explosion, and the Greeks didn’t put that 
kind of moment on a vase. So that moment is not on a vase in a 
museum, but is inside my head, where nobody else can see it but 
me. For it was the moment before the explosion, and it did explode. 
The racket smacked and the sheep gut whanged and the white ball 
came steaming across at me, and I missed it as like as not, and the 
game was over, and the set was over, and we all went home, through 

290 



the motionless heat, for the dew was ofi the grass now and the morn- 
ing land breeze had died. 

But back then there was always the afternoon. In the afternoon 
we always went swimming, or sailing and then swimming afterward, 
all three of us, and sometimes some of the other boys and girls 
whose folks lived down the Row from the Landing or who were 
visiting there. Then after dinner we ‘would get together again and 
sit in the shadow on their gallery or mine, or go to a movie, or take 
a moonlight swim. But one night when I went down, Adam wasn‘t 
there— he had had to drive his father somewhere— and so I asked 
Anne to go down to the Landing to a. movie. On the way back, we 
stopped the car— I had the roadster, for my mother had gone off 
somewhere with a gang in her big one— and looked at the moon- 
light on the bay beyond Hardin Point. The moonlight lay on the 
slightly ruffling water like a swath of brilliant white, cold fire. You 
expected to see that white fire start eating out over the whole ocean 
the way fire in a sage field spreads. But it lay there glittering and 
flickering in a broad nervous swath reaching out yonder to the 
bright horizon blur. 

We sat there in the car, arguing about the movie we had just seen 
and looking up the swath of light. Then the talking died away. She 
had slid down a little in the seat, with her head lying on the top of 
the back cushion so that now she wasn’t looking out toward the 
horizon but up into the sky— for the top of the roadster was down— 
with the moonlight pouring down on her face to make it look 
smooth as marble. 1 slid down a little, too, and looked up at the 
sky, and the moonlight poured down over my face, such as it was. 
I kept thinking that now in a minute I would reach over and take 
hold. I stole a look sidewise and saw how her face was smooth as 
marble in the moonlight. And how her hands lay supine on her lapj, 
the fingers curling a little as though to receive a gift. It would be 
perfectly easy to reach over and take her hand and get started and 
see where we wound up. For I was thinking in language like that, 
the stale impersonal language of the College Boy who thinks he’s 
such a God-damned big man. 

But I didn’t reach over. It seemed a thousand miles across that 
little patch of leather to where she lay with her head back and hei 
hands in her lap and the moonlight over her face. I didn’t know 
why I didn’t reach over. I kept assuring myself that I wasn’t timid, 
wasn’t afraid, I said to myself, hell, she was just a kid, what the hell 
was I hanging back for, all she could do would be to get sore and I 
could stop if she got sore. Hell, I told myself, she wouldn t get sore 
anyway, she knew what was up, she knew you didn’t sit in parked 

291 



cars with boys to play checkers in the moonlight, and she had prob- 
ably been worked over plenty, somebody had probably run the 
scales on her piano. I played with that thought a second, and then 
all at once I was both hot and angry. I started up in the seat, a sud- 
den tumult of something in my chest. “Anne,” I said, “Anne—” and 
didn’t know what I was going to say. 

She turned her face toward me, not lifting her head from the 
back of the seat, just rolling it on the leather cushion. She lifted a 
finger to her lip, and said, “Sh, shl” Then she took the finger away, 
and smiled directly and simply across the thousand miles of leather 
cushion between us, 

I sank back. We lay there for quite a time, with that space be- 
tween us, looking up at the moon-drenched sky and hearing the 
faintest whisper as the water lipped the shingle along the point. 
The longer we lay there, the bigger the sky seemed. After a long 
while I stole another sidewise look at Anne. Her eyes were closed, 
and when I thought that she wasn’t looking up into that expanding 
sky, too, I suddenly felt alone and abandoned. But she opened her 
eyes— I was spying and saw that happen— and again was looking up 
into the sky. I lay there and looked up and didn’t think of anything 
in the world. 

Back then there was a train that passed the crossing just out of 
Burden’s Landing at eleven-forty-five at night. The train always 
blew for the aossing. It blew that night, and I knew that it was 
eleven-forty-five. And time to go. So I sat up, touched the starter, 
turned the car around, and headed home. We hadn’t said a word 
and we didn’t say a word, until we pulled up in front of the Stanton 
house. Then Anne slipped out of the car, quick as a wink, poised 
there a moment on the shell drive, said, “Good night. Jack,” in a 
low voice and with a last flicker of the smile she had smiled at me 
across the thousand miles of leather cushion two hours back, and 
ran up the steps of her house, light as a bird. All of this before I had 
half a chance to begin to collect myself. 

I gaped at the blackness of the doorway back in the shadow of 
the gallery— she hadn’t turned on a light when she entered— and 
listened hard as though I were waiting for a signal. But there wasn't 
a sound except that nameless stir of the night which comes even 
when there isn’t a breath of wind and you are too far from the 
beach to get the whisper and riiSie that is always there, even when 
the sea is quietest. 

Then, after a few minutes, I switched on the motor again, and 
exploded off the Stanton property with a grind of tires diat must 
have scattered the shells of the drive like spray. On the road down 

292 



the Row I just pushed the accelerator to the floor board and let ali 
those drowsy bastards up in those white houses have the works. I 
was letting that cutout snatch them bolt upright in bed like a can- 
non. I roared on out about ten miles till I hit the pine woods where 
there wasn't anybody to snatch up except hoot owls and some stray 
malarial squatter who would be lying off yonder as Cod's gift to the 
anopheles in his shack on the edge of the tidelands. So I turned the 
roadster around and eased on back with the throttle cut down to 
nothing, just drifting along in the roadster, lying back on the 
leather, like a boat drifting on a slow current. 

At home, as soon as I lay back on my bed, I suddenly remem- 
bered-I didn't remember, I saw— Anne’s face lying back, with the 
eyes closed and the moonlight pouring over it, and I remembered 
that day of the picnic long back— the day when we had swum out in 
the bay, under the storm clouds, when she had floated on the water, 
her face turned up to the purple-green darkening sky, her eyes 
closed, and the white gull passing over, very high. I hadn't thought 
of that since it happened, I guess, or if I had thought of it, it hadn’t 
meant a tiling, but all at once, lying there, I had the feeling of being 
on the teetering verge of a most tremendous discovery. I saw that 
the moment tonight was just an extension of the moment long back, 
on the picnic, that this moment tonight had been in that moment 
all the time, and I hadn’t known it, I had dropped it aside or 
thrown it away, but it had been like a seed you throw away to find, 
when you come back that way again, that the plant is tall and 
covered with bloom, or it had been like a litde dirt-colored stick 
you throw into the fire with the other trash, but the thing is dyna- 
mite and there is an awful bang. 

There was an awful bang. I popped up in bed like those drowsy 
bastards when I gave them the cutout. But this was more so. I sat 
up in bed and was absolutely filled with rapture. It wasn't like any- 
thing that had ever happened to me. It stopped my breath and I 
could feel my veins swelling to burst as when you take your deepest 
dive and think you'll never come up. I felt that I was right on the 
verge of knowing the real and absolute truth about everything. Just 
one instant and I would know it. Then I got my breath. “Jesus,” I 
said out loud, “Jesusl” I stretched my arms out as wide as I could, 
as though I could grab the whole empty air. 

Then I thought of the image of the face on the water, under the 
purple-green darkening sky, with the white gull flying over. It was 
almost a shock to remember that, to have the image come back, for 
the thing which had, appaiently, provoked the rapture had itself 
been lost and forgotten in the rapture which had exploded out into 

293 



the wfiole universe. Anyway, now I saw the image again, and all at 
once the rapture was gone, and I experienced a great tenderness, 
a tenderness shot through and veined with sadness, as though 
the tenderness were the very flesh of my body and the sadness the 
veins and nerves of it. That sounds absurd, but tliat was the way it 
was. And for a fact. 

Then I thought, quite objectively as though I were observing the 
symptoms of a total stranger: You me in love, 

I was, for a moment, bemused by that thought. That I was in 
love. And that it wasn’t a bit like the way I had thought it would 
be. I was surprised, and a little bit awed by the fact, like a person 
who learns unexpectedly that he has inherited a million dollars, all 
lying up there in the bank for him to draw on, or who learns that 
the little stitch in the side is cancer and that he is carrying around 
inside himself that mysterious, apocalyptic, burgeoning thing which 
is part of himself but is, at the same time, not part of himself but 
the enemy. I got out of bed, very carefully, handling myself with 
awe-struck care as though I were a basket of eggs, and went to the 
window and stared out into the moon-drenched night. 

So the College Boy, who had thought he was such a God-damned 
big man and knew everything and who had, that evening, looked 
across the little space of leather cushion and had thought the stale 
impersonal thoughts almost as a kind of duty to the definition of 
what he considered himself to be— so he hadn’rteached out his hand 
across that little space and now as a result of that fact stood buck- 
naked in a shadowy room before an open window and stared out 
into enormous moon-soaked, sea-glittering night while off yonder 
in the myrtle hedge a mocking bird hysterically commented on the 
total beauty and justice of the universe. 

That was how the nights became Anne Stanton, too. For that 
night in the roadster, Anne Stanton had done her trick very well. It 
was a wordless and handless trick, but it didn’t need words or 
hands. She had rolled her head on the leather seat back, and 
touched her finger to her lips to say, “Sh, sh,” and smiled. And had 
sunk her harpoon deeper than ever. Queequeg sunk it, through four 
feet of blubber to the very quick, but I hadn’t really known it until 
the line played out and the barb jerked in the red meat which was 
the Me inside of all the blubber of what I had thought I was. And 
might continue to think I was. 

Anne Stanton was the nights, all right. And the days, too, but in 
the days she was not the total substance, rather the flavor, the dis- 
tillate, the climate, the breath, without which the rest wouldn’t be 
anything at all. There would be Adam with us often, and some- 

294 



times the other people, with books, sandwiches, and a blanket in 
the pine woods, on the beach, at the tennis courts, on the shadowy 
gallery with a phonograph going, in the boat, at the movies. But 
sometimes she would let her book slide down to the blanket and lie 
back staring up into the high arch and tangle of the pine boughs, 
and I would begin to spy on her until, in a minute, it would be as 
though Adam weren't there. Or on the gallery she would be laugh- 
ing and jabbering with all the others while the phonograph worked 
away, and then I would catch sight of her suddenly still and pen- 
sive, just for a moment it might be, with her eyes fixed off beyond 
the gallery and the yard, and again, just for that moment, it would 
be as though Adam and the others weren't there. 

Or we would go down to the hotel, where there was a high-dive 
tower, a good high one because the hotel was pretty swank and had 
exhibitions and races there now and then. Anne was crazy about 
diving that summer. She would go up high— she worked up higher 
and higher, day by day— and stand up there in the sunlight poised 
there at the very verge. Then, when she lifted her arms, I would 
feel that something was about to snap in me. Then down she would 
fly, a beautiful swan dive, with her arms wide to emphasize her trim 
breasts and her narrow back arched and her long legs close and 
sweet together. She would come flying down in the sunlight, and as 
I watched her it would be as though nobody else were there. I 
would hold my breath till whatever was going to snap inside me 
snapped. Then she would knife into the water, and her twin heels 
would draw through the wreath of ripple and the flicker of spray, 
and be gone. Adam sometimes got sore as hell at her for going up 
so high. ‘'Oh, Adam," she’d say, “oh, Adam, it’ll be all right, and it’s 
wonderfull” And up the ladder she’d go. Up and plunge. Up and 
plunge. Up and plunge. Over and over again. I used to wonder 
what her face was like just at the woment when she entered the 
water. What expression was on it. 

But sometimes in the day we would be quite literally alone. Some- 
times she and I would slip off and go to the pine woods and walk 
on the soundless matting of needles, holding hands. And then there 
was a little diving float, with just a single low board, anchored 
about a hundred yards off the beach, near the Stanton slip. Some- 
times we would swim out there when other people were pranking 
on the beach, or when nobody was there, and lie flat on our backs 
on the float, with our eyes closed, and just the fingertips touching 
and tingling as though they were peeled skinless with the nerves 
laid bare, so that every bit of my being was focused there. 

At night we were alone pretty often. It had always been Adam 

295 



and I, with Anne tagging along, and then, all at once, it was Anne 
and I, and Adam tagging along or, more likely, back up at his house 
reading Gibbon or Tacitus, for he was great on Rome back then. 
The change came more ^^ily than I had expected. The day after 
that night in the roadster I played tennis with them in the morning 
as usual, and in tlie afternoon went swimming with them, I found 
myself watching Anne all the time, but that was the only difference. 
I couldn't see any change in her. I began to doubt that anything had 
happened, that I had even taken her to the movie the night before. 
But I had to see her that night. 

I went up to their house just about dusk. She was on the gallery, 
in the swing. Adam, it turned out, was upstairs writing a letter he 
had to get off. He would be down in a few minutes, she said. It was 
something for their father, she said. I didn't sit down, though she 
asked me. I stood at the top of the steps, very uneasy, just inside the 
screen door, trying to think up what I would say. Then I blurted 
out, *Tet*s go out on the slip, let's walk." And added lamely, "Till 
Adam comes down." 

Without a word, she got up, came to me, gave me her hand— that 
was her own doing and the fact set blaring and bonging all the fire 
bells and calliopes and burglar alarms in my system— and walked 
down the steps with me, down the path, across the road, and toward 
the slip. We stayed out on the slip a long time. Adam could have 
written a dozen letters in that time. But nothing happened out on 
the slip, except that we sat on the end, our feet dangling over, and 
held hands, and looked over the bay. 

On the side of the road toward the bay, just opposite the Stanton 
house, there was a big thicket of myrtle. \^en we got there, going 
hand in hand on our way back to the house, I stopped there in the 
protection of the shadow, drew her to me a little clumsily and 
abruptly, I guess, for I had had to key myself up to the act, plotting 
it all the way up the slip— and kissed her. She didn't put up any 
protest when I did it, just letting her arms hang limp, but she didn't 
return the kiss, just taking it submissively like a good little girl 
doing what she's told. I looked her in the face, after the kiss, and 
its smoothness was shaded by a reflective, inward expression, the 
kind of expression you see sometimes on a child's face when it is 
trying to decide whether or not it likes a new food it has just tasted. 
And I thought, my God, she probably hadn't been kissed before, 
even if she was seventeen, or almost, and I almost burst out laugh- 
ing, the expression on her face was so funny and I was so happy. So 
I kissed her again. This time she returned the kiss, timidly and 
tentatively, but she returned it. "Anne," I said, with my heart burst- 

296 



ing and my head reeling, “Aftne, I love you, I’m crazy about you.** 

She was clutching my coat, a hand on each side of my chest, just 
under the shoulder, crumpling up the seersucker and hanging on^ 
with her head, a little to one side and down, pressed weakly against 
me, as though she were asking pardon for a piece of misbehavior* 
She didn’t answer what I said, and when I tried to lift her face up„ 
she pressed it harder against me and clutched the seersucker tighter* 
So I stood there and ran my hand over her hair and breathed in the 
dean odor it had. 

Then, after a while which may have been long or short, she dis- 
engaged herself from me, and stepped back. **Adam-” she said, 
*‘he’s waiting—we’ve got to go.” 

I followed her across the road and into the gateway of the Stan- 
ton drive. A few paces up the drive she hesitated for me to come 
abreast of her. Then she took my hand, and that way, hand in 
hand, we proceeded toward the gallery where back in the shadow 
Adam would be sitting. 

Yes, he was sitting there, for I caught the glow of a cigarette, the 
sudden intensification as the smoker took a deep pull, and then the 
fading. 

Still holding my hand, tighter now as though executing a deci- 
sion, she mounted the steps of the gallery, opened the screen with 
her free hand, and entered, drawing me behind her. We stood there 
for a moment, hand in hand. Then she said, “Hello, Adam,” and I 
said, “Hello, Adam.” 

“Hello,” he said. 

We continued to stand there, as though waiting for something. 
Then she released my hand. “I’m going upstairs,” she announced. 
“Good night, you all.” And she was gone with the quick, muted 
patter of her rubber soles across the boards of the gallery floor and 
down the hall inside. 

I still stood there. 

Till Adam said, “Why the hell don’t you sit down?” 

So I sat down at the other end of the swing from Adam. He 
tossed a pack of cigarettes my way. I took one, and fumbled in my 
pockets for a match, but didn’t find one. He leaned toward me> 
struck a match, and held it for my cigarette. As the flame flared 
there in front of my face while the cigarette caught, I had the feel- 
ing that he had put the light there for a purpose, to spy on my 
face while his own was back out of the direct rays. I had the crazy 
impulse to jerk back and wipe my hand across my mouth to see iiE 
there was any lipstick there. 


297 



But the cigarette caught, and 1 drew my head back from the 
light and said, ‘‘Thanks.” 

“You’re welcome,” he replied, and that about wound up the 
conversation for the evening. There was something for us to say. 
He could ask me the question which I knew was in his mind. Or 
I could answer it without his asking it. But neither of us said what 
was to say. I was afraid he would ask me, for with all my saying 
to myself that he could go to hell, that it wasn’t his business, I had 
the feeling of guilt as though I had robbed him of something. But 
at the same time I sat there keyed up and wanting him to ask me, 
for I wanted to tell somebody that Anne Stanton was wonderful 
and that I was in love. It was as though the condition of being in 
love were not completed until I could say to somebody, “Look 
here, I’m in love, be damned if I’m not.” At the moment it seemed 
to require the telling for its fulfillment just as much as it would 
later require the hot, moist contact of bodies. So I sat there in the 
swing, in the dark, absorbed with the fact that I was in love, want- 
ing to say it to complete it, and not, for the moment, missing Anne, 
the object of my love, who had gone upstairs to her room. I was 
so absorbed at the time with the fact of what had happened to me 
that I did not even wonder why she had gone upstairs. Later I de- 
cided that she had gone because, having served notice to Adam 
by standing there before him holding my hand, she wanted to 
leave him alone with that fact, to let him accustom himself to the 
new structure of our little crystal, our little world. 

But maybe, I decided later, much later, years later when it didn’t 
seem that it would ever matter again, she had gone up because she 
had to be alone, to sit by the window in the unlighted room, look- 
ing out on the night, or lying on the bed watclaing the dark ceiling, 
to accustom herself to her new self, to see if she could breathe the 
new air, or sustain herself in the new element or dive and lounge 
in the new tide of feeling. Maybe she went up there to be alone, 
absorbed in herself the way a child is absorbed in watching a 
cocoon gradually part in the dusk to divulge the beautiful moth— 
the Luna moth again, with its delicate green and silver damp and 
crumpled but gradually spreading in the dusk, defining itself, 
slowly fanning the air to make a breeze so light that you would 
not be able to feel it on your eyeball were you to lean that close to 
peer. So maybe she was up in the room trying to discover what 
her new self was, for when you get in love you are made all over 
again. The person who loves you has picked you out of the great 
mass of uncreated clay which is humanity to make something out 
of, and the poor lumpish clay which is you wants to find out what 

^98 



it has been made into. But at the same time, you, in the act o£ lov- 
ing somebody, become real, cease to be a part of the continuum 
of the uncreated clay and get the breath of life in you and rise up. 
So you create yourself by creating another person, who, however, 
has also created you, picked up the you-chunk of clay out of the 
mass. So there are two you’s, the one you yourself create by loving 
and the one the beloved aeates by loving you. The farther those 
two you*s are apart the more the world grinds and grudges on its 
axis. But if you loved and were loved perfectly then there wouIdn*t 
be any difference between the two you’s or any distance between 
them. They would coincide perfectly, there would be a perfect 
focus,- as when a stereoscope gets the twin images on the card into 
perfect adjustment. 

Anyway, Anne Stanton, age seventeen, had probably gone up- 
stairs to be alone because she was, all of a sudden, in love. She was 
in love with a rather tall, somewhat gangly, slightly stooped youth 
of twenty-one, with a bony horse face, a big almost askew hook of 
a nose, dark unkempt hair, dark eyes (not burning and deep like 
the eyes of Cass Mastern, but frequently vague or veiled, blood- 
shot in the mornings, brightening only with excitement), big hands 
that worked and twisted slowly on his lap, plucking at each other, 
and twisted big feet that were inclined to shamble— a youth not 
beautiful, not brilliant, not industrious, not good, not kind, not 
even ambitious, given to excesses and confusions, thrown between 
melancholy and random violence, between the cold mire and the 
hot flame, between curiosity and apathy, between humility and self- 
love, between yesterday and tomorrow. What she had succeeded 
in creating out of that unpromising lump of clay scooped up from 
the general earth, nobody was ever to know. 

But in any case, in her loving she was also re-creating herself, and 
she had gone upstairs to be in the dark and try to learn what that 
new self was. While downstairs Adam and I sat in the swing on the 
gallery, not saying a word. That was the evening Adam got counted 
out for all the other evenings, and out you go, you dirty dishrag, 
you. 

Everybody else got counted out, too, for even on those evenings 
when a crowd would get together on the Stanton gallery, or my 
mother’s, to play a phonograph and dance (with some of the boys— 
some of them veterans back from France— slipping off to take a 
drink from a bottle hidden out there in the crotch of a live oak), 
Anne and I would count them out. For organdie and seersucker are 
pretty thin materials, and the only person in the world I ever 
danced decently with was Anne Stanton and the nights were warm- 

299 



and I wasn*t so much taller than Anne that I could not inhale the 
full scent of her hair while our music-locked limbs paced out the 
pattern of our hypnosis and our breathing kept time together, till, 
after* a while, I would pass from an acute awareness of body to a 
sense of being damned near disembodied, of floating as light- as a 
feather or as light as a big empty-headed balloon held captive to 
the ground by a single thread, and waiting for a puff of breeze. 

Or we would get into the roadster and drive out of the Landing 
and pull the cutout and tear along, hell-for-leather, or as much hell- 
for-leather as was possible on the roads and witli the mechanism 
of those days, out beyond the houses between the pines and the 
tidelands, with her head leaned against my shoulder and her hair 
puffed with the wind and tendrils whipping against my cheek. She 
would lean there and laugh out loud and say, “Oh, Jackie, Jackie, 
it’s a wonderful night, it’s a wonderful night, it’s a wonderful night, 
say it’s a wonderful night, Jackie-boy, say it, say itl” Till I had to 
say it after her, like a lesson I was learning. Or she would hum 
or sing a song, one of those off the phonograph—God, what were 
they then? I don’t remember. And maybe let the humming die off, 
and be perfectly still, with her eyes closed, until I stopped the car 
at some place where the breeze off the Gulf was enough to blow the 
mosquitoes away. (On nights when there wasn’t any breeze, you 
simply didn’t do any stopping.) Sometimes then, when I stopped 
the car she wouldn’t even open her eyes till I had leaned over to 
kiss her, and I might have to kiss her enough to stop her breath. 
Or again, she would wait till just the instant before the kiss, then 
open her eyes wide, all at once, and say, “Bool” and laugh. Then 
she’d be all knees and sharp elbows and little short laughs and 
giggles and serpentine evasions and strategy worthy of a jujitsu 
expert when I tried to capture her for a kiss. It was remarkable 
then how that little seat of a roadster gave as much room for de- 
ployment and maneuver as the classic plains of Flanders and how 
a creature who could lie in your clutch as lissome as willow and 
soft as silk and cuddly as a kitten could suddenly develop that 
appalling number of cunning, needle-pointed elbows and astute 
knees. While beyond the elbows and knees and sharp fingers, the 
eyes gleamed in the moonlight, or starlight, through the hair that 
had worked down loose, and the parted lips emitted the little bursts 
of breathless laughter, between the chanted words— “I don’t— love— 
Jackie-Boy— nobody loves Jackie-Bird— I don’t— love— Jackie-Boy— 
nobody loves— Jackie-Bird— ” Till she would collapse laughing and 
exhausted into my arms and take her kiss and sigh and whisper, 
“I love Jackie-Boy,” and rub a finger lightly over my face, and re- 

^00 



peat, “I love Jackie-Boy— even with his ugly nosel*' Then she would 
give the nose a sound tweak. And I would fondle that hooked, 
askew, cartilaginous monstrosity, pretending great pain but proud 
as Punch of the thing simply because she had put her fingers on it. 

You never could tell whether it was going to be the long kiss 
or the furious swirl of elbows and giggles. And it didn’t matter 
much, for it always came to the same thing in the end, for she would 
lean back with her head on my shoulder and look up at the sky. 
Between kisses we might not talk at all, or I might quote her 
poetry—for in those days I used to read some of it and thought I 
liked it— or we would talk about what we would do after we were 
married. I had never proposed to her. We simply assumed that we 
were going to be married and be together always in a world com- 
posed of sunlit beaches and moonlit pines by the sea and trips to 
Europe (where neither of us had ever been) and a house in an oak 
grove and the leather cushions of a roadster and somewhere a hand- 
ful of delightful children who remained very vague in my imagina- 
tion though very vivid in hers, and whose names, in moments when 
other topics of conversation failed, we would decide on with great 
debate and solemnity. All of them would have to have Stanton for 
a middle name. And one of the boys would be named Joel Stanton 
for the Governor. Of course, the oldest would be named Jack, for 
me. ^'Because you are the oldest thing in tlxe world, Jackie-Boy," 
Anne would say. “The oldest will be named Jackie for you, because 
you are the oldest thing in the world, you are older than the ocean* 
you are older than the sky, you are older than the ground, you are 
older than the trees, and I always loved you and I always pulled 
yom* nose because you are an old, old mess, Jackie-Boy, Jadde-Bird, 
and I love you." So she would pull my nose. 

Only once, toward the end of the summer, did she ask me what 
I was going to do for a living. Lying quietly on my arm, after a 
long silence, she suddenly said, “Jack, what are you going to do?" 

I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. So I said, 
“What am I going to do? I am going to blow in your ear." And 
did it. 

“What are you going to do? Do for a living?” she asked, again. 

“Going to blow in your ear for a living,” I said. 

She didn’t smile. “I mean it,” she said. 

I didn’t answer for a minute. Then I said, **IVe been thinking 
I might study law." 

She was quiet for a little, then said, “You just thought of that 
this minute. You just said it.” 

I had just said it. The subject of my future, as a matter of fed; 

301 



was one on which I had never cared to dwell. I simply didn't care. 
I woul(^ think that I’d get a job, any kind o£ a job, and do it and 
cpUect my pay and spend the pay and go back to the job on Mon- 
day morning, and that would be all. I had. no ambitions. But I 
couldn’t sit there and say to Anne, **Oh, I’ll just get some kind of 
job.” I had to give the impression of being farsighted and pur- 
poseful and competent. 

I had played hell giving that impression. 

She had seen right through me, Jike a piece of glass, and there 
wasn’t anything to answer except to say that she was very wrong, 
that I was indeed going to study law, and what was wrong with 
studying law, please? 

“You just made it up,” she repeated stubbornly. 

“Hell,” I said, “I won’t let you starve. I’ll give you everything 
you’ve got. If you’ve got to have a big house and a lot of dresses 
and parties, well, I’ll—” 

But I didn’t get to finish that. 

“You know perfectly well. Jack Burden,” she interrupted, “I 
don’t have to have anything like that. You’re just being mean. 
You’re trying to put me in wrong. I don’t want anything like 
that. You know I don’t. You know I love you and I’ll live in a 
shack and eat red beans if you’ve got to live that way because 
what you want to do doesn’t make any money. But if you don’t 
want to do anything— even if you do just sort of get a job and have 
plenty of money— oh, you know what I mean— you know the way 
some people are.” She sat up very straight on the seat of the road- 
ster and her eyes, even in nothing but starlight, flashed that fine 
seventeen-year-old scorn. Then she fixed the gleam on me very 
steadily and said in a serious way that made her a funny mixture 
of a really grown-up woman and a little girl play-acting, probably 
with mother’s loose clip-clopping high-heeled shoes and a feather 
boa, a serious way that made her both older and younger than she 
was— she said, “You know I love you. Jack Burden, and I believe 
in you. Jack Burden, and you are not going to be like those people. 
Jack Burden.” 

I laughed, it was so funny, and tried to kiss her, but she wouldn’t 
let me and became suddenly all sharp elbows and knees working 
like a mowing machine and in dead earnest and I was the hay 
crop. I couldn’t soothe her. I couldn’t even lay a finger on her. She 
made me take her home, and wouldn’t even kiss me good night. 

That was the last I heard of it, except for one sentence. The next 
day, when she and I were lying out on the diving float, she said, 

502 



all of a sudden, after a long sun-baked silence, “You remember last 
night?" 

I said I did. 

“Well," she said, “I meant it. I really did.” Then she took her 
hand out of mine, slipped off the float, and swam away to keep me 
from making any answer. 

I didn’t hear any more about the business. And didn’t think 
anything more about it. Anne was just like before, and I fell back 
into the full flood of the summer, into the full tide of feeling in 
which we drifted in a kind of breathless ease, like a strong, massive 
deep current which didn’t hurry but which had an irresistible 
weight of water behind it, and over which the days and nights 
passed like flickers of light and shade. It was drifting, all right, 
but not drifting in any nasty pejorative sense, like a waterlogged 
old skiff drifting in a horsepond or a cake of soap in the gray water 
before you pull the plug in the bathtub. No, it was a fine, conscious 
surrender which was a participation in and a willing of the flood 
itself, and not a surrender at all but an affirmation and all that, 
like the surrender of the mystic to God, which isn’t a surrendering 
to God any more than it is also a creating of God, for if he loves 
God he has willed the being of God. Well, in my very surrender 
I willed and mastered that great current in which I drifted, and 
over which the days and nights flickered, and in which I didn’t have 
to lift a hand to hurry myself, for the current knew its own pace 
and own time, and would take me with it. 

I never tried to hurry anything all summer. Not in the porch 
swing, or in the pine woods, or on the float at night when we swam 
out, or in the roadster. Everything that happened came to happen 
as simply and as naturally and as gradually as a season coming on 
or a plant unrolling a leaf or a kitten waking up. And there was a 
kind of luxuriousness in not rushing things, in not driving toward 
the hot grip and awkward tussle and the leer for the boys back in 
the dormitory when you got in, a new sensuality in waiting for the 
massive current to take you where you belonged and would go in 
the end. She was young— she seemed younger to me then than she 
did later on looking back, for that summer I was so sure that I 
was old and jaded— and she was timid and sensitive and shy, but it 
wasn’t any squealing, squeaking, pullet-squawking, teasing, twitch- 
ing, oh-that’s-not-nice-and-I-never-let-anybody-do-that-before-ohkind 
of shyness.-Perhaps -shyness is the wrong word for it, after all. Cer- 
tainly it is wrong if back behind that word there is any implica- 
tion or color of shame or fear or desire to be “nice." For in one 
way, she seemed to be detached from her very slender, compactly 

SOS 



made, tight-muscled, soft-fleshed, golden-shouldered body, as though 
it were an elaborate and cunning mechanism in which she and I 
shared ownership, which had suddenly dropped to us out of the 
blue, and which, in our ignorance, we had to study with the ^eat* 
est patience and most reverent attention lest we miss some minute, 
scholarly detail without knowledge of which everything would be 
wasted. So it was a period of the most delicate discrimination and 
subtle investigations, with her seriousness mixed with a graceful 
gaiety (“Oh, Jackie-Boy, oh, Jackie-Bird, it’s a wonderful night, a 
wonderful night, his eyes are not bad but his nose is a fright”), 
a gaiety to which the words didn’t mean much but the tune meant 
everything, a tune which seemed to come from the very air as 
though it were full of invisible strings and she simply reached out 
at random in the dark to pluck them with an idle familiar finger. 
And beyond the serious investigations was a kind of level-eyed 
affection, as natural and simple as the air you breathe, which some- 
times didn’t seem to belong with our hot-lipped and shallow- 
breathed occupations, which seemed to be something I had always 
had and not something connected with the new, mysterious body 
which now fascinated both her and me. She would sit and cup my 
head in both her hands and press it against her breast and sing, 
with the words just a whisper, the rhymes she made up as she went 
along (“Poor Jackie-Bird, he is a pest, but I’ll rock him to sleep in 
a soft warm nest, and I’ll sing a song to Jackie-Bird, the sweetest 
song he ever heard, poor Jackie-Bird, poor Jackie-Bird”), and after 
a while the words would just die away until there was only the 
little crooning sound, with the whisper now and then, “Poor Jackie- 
Bird, I’ll never let anything hurt poor Jackie-Bird.” Then after a 
while I would turn my face a little, toward her body, and kiss it 
through the light summer cloth and breathe through the cloth, 
upon it. 

We went quite a tong way, that summer, and there were times 
when I was perfectly sure I could have gone farther. When I could 
have gone the limit. For that fine, slender, compactly made, tight- 
muscled, soft-fleshed, golden-shouldered mechanism which fasci- 
nated Anne Stanton and me, which had dropped to us out of the 
blue, was a very sensitive and beautifully tuned-up contraption. 
But maybe I was wrong in that surmise, and maybe I could not 
have hurried the massive deliberation of that current in which we 
were caught and suspended, or hurried Anne Stanton’s pensive and 
scholarly assimilation of each minute variation which had to be 
slowly absorbed into the body of our experience before another 
could be permitted. It was as though she was aware of a rhythm, 

m 



a tune, a compulsion, outside of herself, and devoutly followed it 
in its subtle and winding progression. But wrong or not, I did not 
put my surmise to the test, for if I myself was not truly aware of 
that rhythm and compulsion which bemused her, I was aware of 
her devotion to it, and could find every moment witli her full 
enough. Paradoxically enough, it was when I was away from her, 
when I was withdrawn from her context, back in my room at night 
or in the hot early afternoon, after lunch, that I was savagely im- 
patient of the delays and discriminatioi^s. This would be especially 
true at those times when she wouldn't see me for a day, the times 
which seemed to mark, I came to understand, some stage, some 
milepost, we had passed. She would simply withdraw herself from 
me, as she had done that night after we first kissed, and leave me, 
at first, confused and ^ilty, but later, as I came to grasp the pat- 
tern of things, merely impatient for the next day when she would 
appear at the court, swinging her racket, her face so smooth, young, 
healthy and apparently disinterested, though comradely, that I 
could not equate it with the face I remembered with the eyelids 
drooping and the damp, starlight-or-moonlight-glistening lips 
parted for the quick, shallow breath or the unashamed sigh. 

But once, late in the summer, I didn't see her for two days. The 
night before, which was windless, with a full moon and an at- 
mosphere that scarcely cooled or stirred with the coming on of 
evening, Anne and I had swum down to the hotel diving tower, 
late enough for everybody else to be out of the water. We lay on 
the big float for a while, not doing any talking, not touching each 
other, just lying on our backs and looking up at the sky. After a 
while she got up and began to climb the tower. I rolled over on 
my side to watch her. She went up to the twenty-foot board, poised 
a moment, and did a swan dive, a nice one. Then she went up to 
the next board. I don't know how many dives she made, but it was 
a lot. I drowsily watched them, watched her climb up, very slow, 
rung by rung, the moonlight on the wet fabric of the dark bathing 
suit making it look like metal, or lacquer, watched her poise at 
the verge, lift her arms out to the tingling extreme, rise on her 
toes, leave the board, and seem to hang there an instant, a dully 
gleaming form so slender and high up it blotted out only a star 
or two, just an instant before the heady swoop and the clean swish- 
ing rip into the water as though she had dived through a great 
tircus hoop covered ivith black silk spangled with silver. 

It happened when she took the highest dive I had ever seen her 
take, pertiaps the highest she was ever to take in her life. I saw her 
climbing up, slow, then pass the board she had been using, the 

305 



twenty-foot board, and go on up. I called to her, but she didn’t 
even look down at me. I knew she had heard me. I also knew that 
she would go on where she was going, no matter what I said now, 
now that she had started. I didn’t call again. 

She made the dive. I knew it was a good one from the very in- 
stant she left the board, but I jumped to my feet, just the same, 
and stood at the edge of the float, holding my breath, my eyes fixed 
on her flight. Just as she entered the water, clean as a whistle, I 
plunged in, too, diving deep and drawing down with my stroke. 
I saw the silvery tangle and trail of bubbles and the glimmer of 
her legs and arms in die dark water when she turned. She had gone 
down deep. Not that she had to go down deep, for she could whisk 
out shallow if she wanted. But that time— and other times— she 
went in deep, as if to continue the flight as long as possible through 
the denser medium. I pulled deep and met her as she began to rise. 
I put my arms around her waist and drew her to me and put out 
lips together. She let her arms trail down, loose, not making a mo- 
tion, while I held her body to me and pressed her face back and 
our legs trailed down together as we rose slowly and waveringly 
through the blackness of the water and the silver of ascending 
bubbles. We rose very slowly, or at least it seemed very slowly, and 
I was holding my breath so long there was a pain in my chest and 
a'whirling dizziness in my head, but the pain and the dizziness had 
passed the line over into a rapture like that I had had in my room 
the night I had first taken her to a movie and had stopped on the 
way home. I thought we would never reach the surface, we rose so 
slowly. 

Then we were there, with the moonlight brittle and fractured on 
the water all about our eyes. We hung there together, still not 
breathing, for another moment, then I released her and we fell 
apart to float on our backs and gaspingly draw the air in and stare 
up at the high, whirling, star-stung sky. 

After a little while I realized that she was swimming away. I 
thought that she would be taking a few strokes to the float. But 
when I did finally roll over and swim to the float, she was already 
at the beach. I saw her pick up her robe, wrap it around her, and 
stoop to put on her sandals. I called to her. She waved back, then 
shaking her hair loose out of the cap, began to run up the beach 
toward home. I swam in, but by the time I reached the beach she 
was near her house. I knew I couldn’t catch her. So I walked on up 
the beach, taking my time. 

I didn’t see her for two days after that. Then she appeared at the 
tennis court, swinging her racket, friendly and cool, getting ready 

306 



to be^t the hell out o£ me as soon as Adam had given me his lacing. 

We were in September then* In a few days Anne was to leave to 
go back up East to Miss Pound's School. Her father was going to 
take her a few days early and stop with her in Washington and 
then in New York before sending her on to Boston, where Miss 
Pound would get her hooks in. Anne hadn't seemed particularly 
excited about the trip, or about getting back to Miss Pound. She 
liked the school fine, she had told me, but I hadn't been over^ 
whelmed by tales of midnight snacks and memory books and that 
darling teacher of French, and her vocabulary wasn't slimed up 
with offensive bits of esoteric finishing-school slang. Back in August 
she had mentioned the plan, the date of departure, but without 
pleasure or displeasure, as though it were something completely 
irrelevant to us, the way a young person mentions death. When 
she mentioned it, I had felt a sudden twinge, but I had managed ta 
put the thought aside, for even though the calendar said it was 
August I had not been able to believe that the summer, and the 
world, would ever end. But that morning when Anne reappeared 
at the tennis court, my first thought was that she would be going 
soon. It really came over me then. I went up to her, not even saying 
hello, and took her hand, feeling a kind of unformulated despera* 
tion and urgency. 

She looked at me with an expression of mild surprise. 

"Don't you love me?" I demanded, angrily. 

She burst out laughing, and fixed her eyes on me, with the 
laughter making innocent, mocking crinkles at the outer comers 
of the absolutely clear eyes. "Sure," she said, laughing, the idle 
racket swinging in her free hand, "sure, I love you, Jackie-Boy, 
Jackie-Bird, who said I didn't love poor old Jackie-Bird?" 

"Don't be silly,'* I said, for the language of all our nights in the 
roadster and in the porch swing suddenly seemed, in the glare of 
morning and with the desperation in me, fatuous and loathsome. 
"Don't be silly," I repeated, "and don't xall me Jackie-Bird." 

“But you are Jackie-Bird," she replied gravely, but with the 
ainkles still at the comers of the eyes. 

"Don't you love me?" I demanded, ignoring what she had said. 

"I love Jackie-Bird," she said, "poor Jackie-Bird." 

"God damn it," I said, "don't you love me?" 

She studied me a moment, with the crinkles entirely gone now. 
"Yes," she said then, "I do," and pulled her hand out of mine and 
walked across the court, with a kind of finality in the stride as 
though she had made up her mind to go somewhere and it was 
quite a way and she had better start walking. She only walked 

307 



across the court, to sit on the bench in the feathery shade ot the 
mimosa, but I watched her as though the court were as wide as the 
Sahara and she were dwindling into distance. 

Then Adam came, and we played tennis. 

She had come back that morning, but it was not to be as it had 
been before. She had come back, ail right, but not ail of her. She 
was with me as much as before, but she seemed to be wrapped in 
her own thoughts, and when I caressed her she seemed to submit 
out of a sense of duty or at the best out of a kindness which wasn't 
quite contemptuous. That was the way it was for the last week, 
while the days stayed hot and breathless, and clouds piled up in 
the late afternoons as though promising a squall but the squall 
didn't come, and the nights were as heavy and blunt as a big black 
silver-dusted grape ready to burst. 

Two nights before she was supposed to leave we went in to the 
Tanding to a movie. It was raining when we came out of the movie. 
We had intended to go for a swim after the show, but we didn't. 
We had taken lots of swims in the rain, that summer and the sum- 
mers before when Adam had been with us. We would no doubt 
iiave gone that night too, if the rain had been a different kind of 
jrain, if it had been a light sweet rain, falling out of a high sky, 
the kind that barely whispers with a silky sound on the surface 
of the water you are swimming in, or if it had been a driven, 
needle-pointed, cold, cathartic rain to make you want to run along 
the beach and yell before you took refuge in the sea, or even if it 
had been a torrent, the kind you get on the Gulf that is like noth- 
ing so much as what happens when the bottom finally bursts out 
•of a big paper bag suspended full of water. But it wasn’t like any 
of those kinds of rain. It was as though the sky had sagged down 
as low as possible and there were a universal leaking of bilge down 
through the black, gummy, dispirited air. 

So we put the top up on the roadster, getting well wet doing it, 
got in, and drove toward home. The light was blazing in my 
mother's place and on the gallery, and so we decided to go in there 
and make some coffee and sandwiches. It was still early, about nine- 
thirty. My mother, 1 remembered, had gone down the Row to play 
bridge with the Pattons and some fellow who was visiting them 
and was stuck on her. We wheeled up the drive and ground to a 
stop with a great crunching and spraying of shells and rain water. 
We ran up the right-hand sweep of tlie twin flights of steps leading 
to the gallery; then safe under the gallery roof began to stamp and 
$hake the water from us like dogs. The running and stamping and 
the wet had made Anne's hair come loose. It was hanging down 

308 



her back, with some odd wet strands plastered across her brow and 
one over her cheek to make her look like a child coming out of a 
bath. She laughed as she cocked her head to one side and shook it> 
the way girls do, to make the hair fall free. She ran her spread 
fingers through the hair like a big comb to catch the stray hairpins. 
A couple of them fell to the gallery floor. ‘l*m a fright,” she said, 
“I'm an awful fright,” and kept on cocking her head over and 
laughing and looking up at me sidewise with bright eyes. She was. 
more like she had been before. 

I said, yes, she was a fright, and we went on into the house. 

I switched the light off in the big hall, but let the gallery lighu- 
stay on, then led the way back to the kitchen, through the diningj: 
room and pantry, off to the right of the hall. I put the coffee on 
to make, and got some food out of the icebox (that was back yonder 
before electric refrigerators or my mother would have had a brace 
of them big as a log cabin and surrounded at midnight by ladies 
with bare shoulders and tipsy men in dinner jackets, just like the 
ads). While I did the scullery work, Anne was braiding her hair. 
Apparently she was planning a pigtail on each side, for one was 
well under way by the time I had the grub laid out on the kitchen 
table. ”Why don't you make the sandwiches and stop primpingK’ 
1 said. 

“All right,” she said, “and you'll have to fix the hair.” 

So while she sat at the table and fixed the sandwiches, I finished 
the first pigtail. “There ought to be a ribbon on it to hold it to- 
gether,” I said, “or something.” I was pressing the end between my 
fingers to keep it from coming unplaited. Then my eyes fell oir a 
clean dish towel on the rack. I dropped the braid and went over 
to the towel and tore with the aid of a pocket knife two strips off 
the end. The dish towel was white with a red border. I came back, 
repaired the damage to the braid, and tied up the end with the 
piece of towel in a bowknot. “You'll look like a pickaninny,” I 
said. She giggled and kept on spreading peanut butter. 

I saw that the coffee was made, and turned off the gas. Then I 
began to work on the second pigtail. I leaned over and ran the 
silky stuff through my fingers, which were all tingling thumbs as 
rough as sandpaper, separated it into three skeins, and *wdiile I 
folded them over into place, one after another, breathed in the 
fresh meadowy smell the hair had because it was damp. I was thus 
occupied when the telephone rang. “Take this,” I ordered Ann^ 
“or it'll unravel,” and thrust the end of the pigtail at her. Then I 
went out to the hall. 

It was my mother. She and the Pattons and the fellow who was 

309 



Atuck on her, and God knew who else, were going to pile into the 
«:ar and drive forty miles to La Grange, a joint in the next countv 
on the road to the city, where there were a few dice tables and a 
couple of roulette wheels and where the best people rubbed shouh 
ders with the worst and inhaled a communal blue fog of throat' 
lacerating tobacco smoke and illicit alcohol fumes. She said she 
didn’t know when she’d be in, but to leave the door open, for she’d 
forgotten her key. She didn’t have to tell me to leave the door open 
for nobody ever locked up in the Landing, anyway. She said not 
to worry, for she felt lucky, and laughed and hung up. Well, she 
needn't have told me not to worry, either. Not about her luck.' She 
was lucky, all right. She got everything she wanted. 

I hung up the receiver and looked up to see, in the light that 
came to the hall from the door to the back passage, Anne standing 
a few feet from me, just tying the bow to the end of the second 
long pigtail. “It was my mother,” 1 explained. ”She and the Pattons 
are going to La Grange.” Then added, “She won’t be back till late.” 

As I said that last, I was suddenly aware of the emptiness of the 
house, the dark rooms around us, the weight of darkness stored 
above us, stuffing the rooms and the attic, spilling thickly but 
weightlessly down the stairs, and aware of the darkness outside. As 
I looked into Anne’s face there wasn’t a sound in the house. Out- 
side there was the drip on leaves and on the roof, now subsiding. 
Then my heart took a big knock, and I felt the new blood coursing 
through me as though somebody had opened a sluice gate. ^ 

I was looking right into Anne’s face, and doing so, 1 knew, and 
knew that she knew, that this was the moment the great current of 
the summer had been steadily moving toward all the time. I turned 
around and moved slowly up the hall toward the foot of the stairs. 

I couldn’t tell at first whether she was following or not. Then I 
knew she was. I climbed the stairs, and knew she was following 
about four steps behind me. ® 

At the head of the stairs, in the upstairs hall, I didn’t even pause 
or look around. I moved up the hail, which was pitch dark, toward 
the door of my room. My hand touched the knob in the dark, and 
I pushed the door open and entered. There was a little light in the 
room, for the night had, apparently, cleared for the moment, and 
too, the glare of the gallery light below was reflected up from the 
wet leaves. I stood to one side, with my hand still on the knob of 
the door, while she walked into the room. She didn’t even glance 
at me as she came in. She took about three steps into the room 
and stopped. I closed the door and moved toward the white-clothed 
narrow figure; but she did not turn around. I stood behind her 

310 



drawing her shoulders back against me and folding my forearms 
over her bosom and putting my dry lips down against her hair. 
Meanwhile her arms hung loosely at her sides. We stood that way 
for a couple of minutes, like lovers in an advertisement watching 
a dramatic sunset or the ocean or Niagara Falls. But we weren’t 
watching anything. We were standing in the middle of a bare, 
shadowy room (iron bed, old dresser, pine table, trunks and books 
and male gear— for I hadn’t let my mother turn that room into a 
museum) and staring across the room out into the dark tops of 
trees which all at once began to stir with a wind off the Gulf and 
rattle in an increase of rain. 

Then Anne lifted her arms and folded them before her so that 
one of her hands was on each of mine. “Jackie,” she said in a low 
voice, which wasn’t, however, a whisper, “Jackie-Bird, I came up 
here.” 

She had come, all right. 

I began to undo the hooks and eyes down the back of the white 
dress. She stood absolutely still, as though good and obedient, with 
a pigtail hanging back over each shoulder. The fact that the light 
doth was damp and clingy didn’t make things any easier. I kept 
fumbling the God-damned hooks and eyes. Then I came to the 
sash. It was tied in a bow on the left side, I remember. I got that 
free, and it fell to the floor, and I began again on the dress. She 
was as patient, standing there with her arms at her side, as though 
I were a dressmaker and she were having a fitting. She didn’t say 
anything except when I, in my clumsiness and confusion, tried to 
pull the dress down over her hips. “No,” she said then, in the same 
low voice as before, “no, this way,” and lifted her bare arms above 
her head. I noticed, even then, that she didn’t let the fingers fall 
loose in the natural way, but held them together on each hand, 
and almost straight, as though she were lifting her arms for a dive 
and had stopped just before completing the preliminary posture. 
I drew the dress over her head and stood there with it clutched 
foolishly in my hands before I got the wit to lay it across a chair. 

She was standing with her arms still up, and I took that as a sign 
the slip was to come off the same way the dress had. It came off the 
same way, and with my clumsy, nervous meticulousness I laid it 
across a chair, as though it might break. She lowered her arms to 
her sides and stood with the same passivity while I finished the 
task. While I unhooked the brassiere, and lifted it forward so that 
it would fall down her motionless arms, and released the drawers 
and drew them down her legs, kneeling on the floor beside her, 
1 was somehow, so careful that my fingers never even brushed her 

311 



skin. My breath was quick and the constriction in my throat and 
chest was like a knot, but my mind kept flying off to peculiar things 
—to a book I had started and never finished, to wondering whether 
I would go back to the dormitory that fall or take a room out, to 
an algebraic formula I remembered which kept running through 
my head, to a scene, just the corner of a field with a broken stile, 
which I tried desperately to locate out of my past. My mind would 
just take those crazy wild leaps and centrifugal plunges like an 
animal with one foot in a trap or a June bug on a string. 

As I crouched there beside her, just as I had let the batiste drop 
about her feet, she slipped one foot from its pump— you know how 
girls do, pressing the heels together a little so that the feet can be 
drawn out— then the other. I rose to stand beside her, and ex- 
perienced a kind of shock to find how small she was, standing flat 
on the floor without her heels. I had seen her that way a thousand 
times, in a bathing suit, standing barefooted on the sand or float. 
But it struck me now. 

She stood there, as I rose, with her arms hanging loose as before, 
then she folded them across her breast and hunched her shoulders 
a little and gave a slight shiver, and I saw how with the drawing 
forward of the shoulders the shoulder blades suddenly seemed sharp 
and frail, with a pigtail hanging down across each one. 

It was raining hard outside now. with violent gusts. I noticed 
that. 

Her head was slightly inclined forward, and she apparently saw, 
or remembered, that she still had on her stockings. Turning from 
me a little, she leaned forward, and balancing herself on one foot 
and then the other, drew them off and let them fall with the sash 
and the little wispy pile of stuff there before her. Then she stood 
as before, hunched slightly forward, perhaps shivering, her knees 
slightly bent and pressed together. 

While I stood there fumbling with the buttons on my shirt, tear- 
ing one loose because I couldn't seem to get it thiough the but- 
tonhole (in a momentary lull of the wind and rain, it made a single 
tick when it struck the uncarpeted floor), and while my mind made 
the crazy June-bug leaps and plunges, she walked across to the iron 
bed and sat down, tentatively, close to the edge, her feet and knees 
pressed close, her arms still folded and her shoulders slightly 
hunched as before. She was looking up at me across the space, with 
a question, or appeal, in her eyes— I couldn't read them in the dim- 
ness. 

Then, letting one hand drop to the bed for support, she leaned 
a little sideways, lifted her feet from the floor, still together, and 

312 



with a gentle, curling motion, lay back on the white counterpane; 
then punctiliously straightened out and again folded her handi 
aaoss her bosom, and closed her eyes. 

And at the instant* when she closed her eyes, as I stared at her, 
my mind took one of the crazy leaps and I saw her floating in the 
water, that day of the picnic three years before, with her eyes 
closed and the violent sky above and the white gull flashing high 
over, and that face and this face and that scene and this scene 
seemed to fuse, like superimposed photographs, each keeping its 
identity but without denying the other. And at that instant, as 
I stood there with the constriction in my throat that made me swal- 
low hard and with my body tumescent, I looked at her there on the 
iron bed, then looked suddenly around the big, bare, shadowy 
room and heard the gusty rain and knew that everything was wrong, 
completely wrong, how I didn’t know, didn’t try to know, and that 
this was somehow not what the summer had been driving toward. 
That I wasn’t going to do it. “Anne,” I said, hoarsely, “Anne—” 

She didn’t answer, but she opened her eyes, and looked at me. 

“We oughtn’t,” I began, ‘'we oughtn’t— it wouldn’t— it wouldn’t 
be— it wouldn’t be right.” So I used the word right, which came to 
my lips to surprise me, for I hadn’t ever thought of anything I had 
done with Anne Stanton or with any other woman or girl as being 
right or wrong, but as just something that happened, and hadn’t 
ever thought about right or wrong very much in connection with 
anything but had simply done the things people do and not done 
the things people don’t do. Which are the things people do and 
don’t do. And I remember now the surprise I felt when I heard that 
word there in the air, like the echo of a word spoken by somebody 
else God knows how many years before, and now unfrozen like a 
word in Baron Munchausen’s tale. I couldn’t any more have 
touched her then than if she had been my little sister. 

She didn’t answer then, but kept on looking at me, with an ex- 
pression I could not fathom, and as I looked at her I was over- 
whelmed by a great, warm pity, like a flood in my bosom, and 
burst out, “Anne— oh, Anne—” and felt the impulse to fling myself 
to my knees beside the bed and seize her hand. 

Now if I had done that, things might have developed differently 
and more in the normal pattern, for it is probable that when a 
half-clothed and healthy young man kneels beside a bed and seizes 
the hand of an entirely unclothed and good-looking young girl, 
developments will follow the normal pattern sooner or later. And 
if I had once touched her in the process of undressing her, or even 
if she had spoken to me to say anything, to call me Jackie-Boy or 

in 



tell me she loved me or had giggled or seemed gay, or had even 
answered me, saying anything whatsoever, when I looked at her 
lying there on the bed and first cried out her name— if any of those 
things had happened things might have been different then and 
forever afterward. But none of those things had happened, and I 
was not to follow the wild impulse to throw myself on my knees 
by the bed and take her hand to make the first trifling contact of 
flesh with flesh, which would probably have been enough. For just 
as I burst out, “Anne— oh, Anne— ' there was the sound of tires on 
the drive, then the creaking of brakes. 

“They’ve come back, they’ve come back!” I exclaimed, and Anne 
rose abruptly to a sitting position on the bed and looked wildly at 
me. 

“Grab your stuff,” I ordered, “grab your stuff, and get to the 
bathroom— you could have been in the bathroomi” I was cramming 
my shirt in and was trying to buckle my belt all at once and was 
going toward the door. “I’ll be in the kitchen,” I said, “I’ll be 
fixing something to eat!” 

Then I bolted from the room, and ran down the hall, trying to 
run on tiptoe, and ran down the back stairs to the back passage 
and then into the kitchen, where I put a match to the gas under 
the coffeepot with trembling fingers just as the front screen door 
slammed and people entered the hall. I sat down at the table and 
began to make sandwiches, waiting for my heart to stop pounding 
before I confronted my mother and the Pattons and whatever bas- 
tards they had with them. 

When my mother came on back to the kitchen, right away, fol- 
lowed by her gang, there I was and there was a nice pile of tooth- 
some sandwiches and they weren’t going to La Grange because of 
the storm and kidded me about being a mind reader and having 
the sandwiches and coffee all ready for them, and I was charming 
and gracious to them all. Then Anne came down (she had done a 
good circumstantial job and flushed the toilet twice to advertise her 
whereabouts) and they kidded her about her pigtails and her picka- 
ninny hair ribbons, and she didn’t say anything but smiled shyly 
the way a nice well-bred young girl should when the grownups take 
amiable notice of her, and then she sat quietly and ate a sandwich 
and I couldn’t read a thing from her face, not a thing. 

Well, that was the way the summer ended. True, there was the 
rest of the night, with me lying on the iron bed and hearing the 
leaves drip and cursing myself for a fool and cursing my luck and 
trying to figure out what Anne had thought and trying to plan how 
I would get her off alone the next day— the last day. But then I 

314 



would think how if I had gone on, it would have been worse, with 
my mother coming back and going upstairs with the ladies (as she 
had done), and with Anne and me trapped there in my room. And 
as that thought scared me into a cold sweat, I suddenly had the 
feeling of great wisdom: I had acted rightly and wisely. Therefore 
we had been saved. And so my luck became my wisdom (as the 
luck of the damned human race becomes its wisdom and gets into 
the books and is taught in schools), and then later my wisdom be- 
came my nobility, for in the end, a long time after, I got the notion 
that I had acted out of nobility. Not that I used that word to my- 
self, but I skirted all around its edges and frequently, late at night 
or after a few drinks, thought better of myself for remembering my 
behavior on that occasion. 

And as my home movie unrolled, as I drove west, I could not 
help but reflect that if I hadn’t been so noble— if it was nobility— 
everything would have been different. For certainly if Anne and 
I had been trapped in that room, my mother and Governor Stan- 
ton would have set us up in matrimony, even if grimly and grudg- 
ingly. And then whatever else might have happened, the thing that 
had happened to send me west would never have happened. So, 
I observed, my nobility (or whatever it was) had had in my world 
almost as dire a consequence as Cass Mastern’s sin had had in his. 
Which may tell something about the two worlds. 

There was, as I was saying, the rest of the night after Anne had 
gone home. But there was also the next day. Anne, however, was 
busy packing and doing errands in the Landing during the day. 
I hung around her house, and tried to talk with her, but we never 
got more than a few words together, except when I drove her down 
to town. I tried to make her marry me right away, just to go home 
and get a bag and tear out. She was under age, and all that, but 
I figured we could get by— in so far as I figured anything. Then 
let the Governor and my mother raise hell. She only said, '‘Jackie- 
Boy, you know I’m going to marry you. Of course. I’m going to 
marry you forever and ever. But not today.” When I kept pestering 
her, she said, *‘You go on back to State and finish up and I’ll marry 
you. Even before you get your law degree.” 

When she said ”law degree,” I didn’t really remember right off 
what she was talking about. But I remembered in time not to ex- 
press any surprise and had to be satisfied with that. 

I helped her with the errands, took her home, and then went to 
my house for dinner. After dinner I went to see her early, going in 
the roadster with the hope, despite the lowering, gusty weather, that 
we could take a ride. But it was no soap. Some of the boys and girls 

315 



we had played round with that summer were there to tell Anne 
good-bye, and some parents, two couples, were there, too, to see the 
Governor (who wasn’t Governor any more, but to the Landing 
would always be the “Governor”) and give him a stirrup cup. The 
young people played a phonograph on the gallery, and the old 
people, who looked old to us anyway, sat inside and drank gin and 
tonic. The best I could do was to dance with Anne, who was sweet 
to me but who, when I kept asking her to slip out with me, said 
she couldn’t just then, she couldn’t because of the guests and she’d 
try to later. But then another storm blew up, for it was right at the 
equinox, and the parents came out to say they had better go home, 
and told their particular young ones in a loud voice that they ought 
to come too and let Anne get some sleep for the trip. 

I hung around, but it didn’t do any good. Governor Stanton sat 
in the living room and had another drink by himself and looked 
over the evening paper. We clung together in the porch swing, and 
listened to his paper rattle when he turned the page, and whispered 
that we loved each other. Then we just clung without talking, for 
the words began to lose their meaning, and listened to the rain beat 
the trees. 

When a little break came in the rain, I got up, went inside, and 
shook hands with the Governor, then came out, kissed Anne good- 
bye, and left. It was a stiff cold-lipped kiss, as though the summer 
never had been at all, or hadn’t been what it had been. 

I went on back to State. I felt that I couldn’t wait for Christmas 
when she would come home. We wote every day, but the letters be- 
gan to seem like checks drawn on the summer’s capital. There had 
been a lot in the bank, but it is never good business practice to live 
on your capital, and I had the feeling, somehow, of living on the 
capital and watching something dwindle. At the same time, I was 
wild to see her. 

I saw her Christmas, for ten days. It wasn’t like the summer. She 
told me she loved me and was going to marry me, and she let me 
go pretty far. But she wouldn’t marry me then, and she wouldn’t 
go the limit. We had a rov/ about that just before she left. She had 
been willing to in September, but now she wouldn’t. It seemed that 
she was, in a way, breaking a promise, and so I got pretty mad. I 
told her she didn’t love me. She said she did. I wanted to know why 
she wouldn’t go on, then. “It’s not because I’m afraid and it’s not 
because I don’t love you. Oh, I do love you, Jackie, I do,” she said, 
“and it’s not because I’m a nasty old nicey-pants. It’s because you 
are the way you are, Jackie.” 


316 



*'Yeah,” 1 sneered, “you mean you don't trust me, you think I 
wouldn’t marry you and then you’d be the ruined maid.” 

“I know you’d marry me,” she said, “it’s just because you’re the 
way you are.” 

But she wouldn’t say any more. So we had an awful row. I went 
back to State a nervous wreck. 

She didn’t write to me for a month. I held out about two weeks, 
and then began to apologize. So the letter^? began again, and far o£E 
somewhere in the great bookkeeping system of the universe some- 
body punched some red buttons every day on a posting machine 
and some red figures went on the ledger sheet. 

She was back at the Landing in June for a few days. But the 
Governor was not well and before long the doctors packed him off 
to Maine to get him out of the heat. He took Anne with him. Before 
she left, it was just like Christmas, and not like the summer before. 
It was even worse than Christmas, for I had my B.A. now and it 
was time for me to get into the Law School. We had a row about 
that. Or was it about that? She said something about law and I blew 
up. We made it up, by letter, after she had been in Maine six weeks, 
and the letters began again and the red figures fell like bloody little 
bird tracks on that ledger leaf bearing my name in the sky, and I 
lay around Judge Irwin’s house and read American history, not for 
school, not because I had to, but because I had, by accident, stepped 
through the thin, crackly crust of the present, and felt the first pull 
of the quicksand about my ankles. When she came back for a week 
or so in the fall, with her father, before she went off to some refined 
female college in Virginia, we spent a lot of time in the bay and in 
the roadster, and made all the motions we had made before. She 
flew down from the diving tower like a bird. She lay in my arms in 
the moonlight, when there was moonlight. But it was not the way 
it had been. 

For one thing, there was the incident of the new kiss. About the 
second or third time we were together that fall, she kissed me in a 
new w^y, a way she had never used before. And she didn’t do it in 
the discriminating, experimental way she had done things the sum- 
mer before. She just did it, in the heat of the moment, you might 
say. I knew right away she had picked it up from some man up in 
Maine that summer, some summer bastard in white flannel pants 
with vowels that clicked like dominoes. I told her I knew she'd been 
fooling with some fellows in Maine. She didn’t deny it, not even for 
an instant. She just said, “Yes,” as cool as could be, and asked me 
how I knew. I told her. Then she said, “Oh, of course,*’ and I got 

317 



pretty mad and pulled away from her. She had kept her arm around 
my neck the whole time. 

She just looked at me, still cool, and said, “Jack, I did kiss a man 
up in Maine. He was a nice boy. Jack, and I liked him a lot and he 
was fun to be with. But 1 didn’t love him. And if you and I hadn’t 
had that row and I hadn’t felt that the world had sort of come to 
an end and I wouldn’t be with you again, I wouldn’t have done it. 
Maybe I v/anted to fail in love with him. To fill up the empty place 
you left, Jackie.-Oh, Jackie, there was a place, an awful big place-” 
And with a simple unthinking gesture she laid her right hand on 
her heart. “But I couldn’t,” she said. “I couldn’t fall in love with 
him. And I quit kissing him. Even before we made up, you and I.” 
She reached out and laid her right hand on one of my hands, and 
leaned toward me. “For we did make up, you and I,” she asked, 
“didn’t we, Jackie-Bird?” She laughed a quick laugh that welled up 
in her throat, then asked, “Didn’t we, Jackie-Boy? Didn’t we? And 
I’m happy again I” 

“Yeah,” I said, “we did.” 

“Aren't you happy?” she asked, leaning. 

“Sure,” I said, and was as happy, I suppose, as I deserved to be. 
But the thing was there all the time, breathing back there in the 
dark of my mind and waiting to pounce. Even though I forgot it 
was there. Then, the next night when she didn’t kiss me in the new 
way, I felt the thing stir. And the next night. Because she didn’t kiss 
that new way I was even angrier than I had been when she had. So 
I kissed her the way that man in Maine had done. She drew back 
from me immediately and said, quite quietly, “I know why you did 
that.” 

“You liked it well enough up in Maine,” I said. 

“Oh, Jackie,” she said, “there isn’t any place called Maine and 
never was, there just isn’t anything but you and you are all forty- 
eight states together and I loved you all the time. Now will you be 
good? And kiss me our way?” 

So I did that, but the world is a great snowball rolling downhill 
and it never rolls uphill to unwind itself back to nothing at all and 
nonhappening. 

Even though the summer just past had not been like the summer 
before, I went on to State again and got my job back hashing and 
did some newspaper reporting and entered the Law School and 
loathed it. Meanwhile I wrote letters to Anne at the very refined 
female college in Virginia, and the capital on which those checks 
were drawn dwindled and dwindled. Till Christmas, when I came 
home and Anne came home. I told her I simply loathed the Law 



School, and expected (and, in a twisted way, wanted) hell to pop. 
But hell did not pop. She merely reached over and patted my hand. 
(We were sitting on the couch in the Stanton living room, where we 
had clutched and clung until we had finally fallen apart from each 
other, she in a kind of withdrawn melancholy, and I in the fatigue 
and irritation of desire too long protracted and frustrated.) She 
patted my hand, and said, “Well, don’t study law, then.- You don’t 
have to study law.” 

*‘What do you want me to do then?” 

‘'Jackie, I never wanted you to study law. It was your idea.” 

“Oh, was it?” I asked. 

“Yes,” she said, and patted my hand again. “Do what you want 
to, Jackie. I want you to do what you want. And I don’t care if you 
don’t make money. I told you long back I’d live on red beans with 
you.” 

I got up from the couch. For one reason so she couldn't pat my 
hand in that way which suddenly reminded me of the way a nurse 
pats the hand of a patient,' a sort of impersonal pat intended to be 
soothing. I stood well back from her, and spoke firmly. “All right, 
you’ll eat red beans with me. Let’s get married. Tomorrow. To- 
night. We’ve fooled around long enough. You say you love me. All 
right, I love you.” 

She didn’t say anything, but sat there on the couch with her 
hands lying loose in her lap, and lifted her face, which suddenly was 
tired and drawn, and looked up at me from eyes which gradually 
brightened with unshed tears. 

“You do love me?” I demanded. 

She nodded slowly. 

“And you know I love you?” I demanded. 

She nodded again. 

“All right, then?” 

“Jack,” she said, then stopped for a moment. “Jack, I do love you. 
I guess I feel sometimes that I might just kiss you and hold you 
tight and close my eyes and jump off a cliff with you. Or like that 
time when you dived down to me and we kissed in the water and it 
seemed like we’d never come up. Do you remember. Jack?” 

“Yes,” I said. 

“I loved you like that then, Jack.” 

“Now?” I demanded, “what about now?” 

“Now', too. Jack, I guess I could do it now, too. But it's different, 
too.” 

“Different?” 

“Oh, Jack,” she exclaimed, and for the first time, at least the first 

319 



time I ever remembered, made the gesture of lifting her hands to 
her temples, that gesture to control distraction which was never to 
become characteristic but which I was to see again. ^‘Oh, Jack,*’ she 
said again, “things have happened, so much has happened. Since 
then.” 

“What has happened?” 

“Oh, it’s just that getting married isn’t like jumping off a cliflE. 
Love isn’t either, isn’t like jumping off a cliff. Or getting drowned, 
It’s-it’s~oh, I don’t know how to say it-it’s trying to live, it’s hav- 
ing a way to live.” 

“Money,” I said, “if it’s money you—” 

“It’s not money,” she interrupted, “I don’t mean money— oh. 
Jack, if you only could see what I meant” 

“Well, I’m not going to get a job with Patton or anybody round 
here. Or have them get me a job. Not even Irwin. I’ll get a job, I 
don’t care what kind, but not with them.” 

“Darling,” she said tiredly, “I’m not trying to make you come 
here. Or get a job with Patton. Or anybody. I want you to do what 
you want. Just so it is something. Even if you don’t make money. I 
told you I’d live in a shack,” 

So I went back to the Law School apd by dint of consistent effort 
succeeded in busting out before the end of the year. ][t took a lot of 
attention to get busted out, for a man just can’t achieve that by the 
ordinary means at State. He has to work at it. I could have simply 
resigned, of course, but if you simply drop out or resign, you might 
be able to come back. So I busted out. Then while I was celebrating 
my busting out and was pretty sure Anne would be sore and throw 
me over, I got involved with a pal of mine and two girls and there 
was a small scandal, which got into the papers. I was an ex -student 
then, and so the University couldn’t do anything about it. Anne 
didn’t do anything either, for I guess I was an ex-Jackie-Bird by that 
time. 

So Anne went her way and I went mine. My way was to work for 
a newspaper and hang around the lower part of the city and read 
books on American history. Finally I was taking courses at the Uni- 
versity again, just spare time at first, then seriously. I was entering 
the enchantments of the past. For a while it looked as though Anne 
and I had made it up, but somehow a gear slipped and it was like 
before. I didn’t finish the Ph.D. So I went back to the Chronicle, 
where I was a reporter and a damned good one. I even got married. 
To Lois, who was damned good looking, a lot better looking, I sup- 
pose, than Anne, and juicy while Anne was inclined to bone and 
muscle under flesh. Lois looked edible, and you knew it was tender 

m 



all the way through, a kind of mystic combination of filet mignon 
and a Georgia peach aching for the tongue and ready to bleed gold. 
Lois married me for reasons best known to herself. But one was, I 
am sure, that my name was Burden. I am forced to this conclusion 
by the process of elimination. It could not have been my beauty, 
grace, charm, wit, intellect, and learning, for, in the first place, my 
beauty, grace, and charm, were not great, and in the second place, 
Lois didn’t have the slightest interest in wit, intellect, and learning. 
Even if I had had them. It could not have been my mother’s money, 
for Lois’s own widowed mother had plenty of money, which Lois’s 
father had made from a lucky war contract for gravel, a little too 
late to give those things called advantages to his daughter at her 
most impressionable age. So it must have been the name of Burden. 

Unless it was that Lois was in love with me. I put this possibility 
in the list merely for logical and schematic completeness, for I am 
quite sure that the only things Lois knew about love was how to 
spell the word and how to make the physiological adjustments tradi- 
tionally associated with the idea. She did not spell very well, but 
she made those adjustments with great skill and relish. The relish 
was nature, but the skill was art, and ars longa est. I knew this 
despite the very expert and sustained histrionics of which Lois was 
capable. I knew it, but I succeeded in burying it out in the back 
yard of my mind, like a rat that has been caught in the pantry 
gnawing the cheese. I didn’t really care, I suppose, so long as noth- 
ing happened to make me have to face the fact. And once in my 
arms, Mrs. Burden was very faithful or very discreet, for nothing 
ever happened. And the arrangement was perfect. 

“Jack and I are perfectly adjusted sexually,’^ Lois used to say 
primly, for she was very advanced in what with her passed for 
thought and was very sophisticated in her language. She would look 
around at the faces of the guests in the very slick modernistic apart- 
ment (her taste ran that way and not to balconies overlooking 
charming old patios, and her money paid the rent), and would tell 
them how perfectly adjusted she and I were, and in telling them 
would add about two extra chocolate-cream-puff syllables to the 
word sexually. For a while I didn’t mind her telling the guests 
about how well adjusted we were. It even flattered my ego, for no- 
body would mind having his name coupled with that of Lois or 
having his picture taken with her in a public place. So I would 
beam modestly around the little group, while Lois told them about 
that perfect adjustment. But later it began to annoy me. 

As long as I regarded Lois as a beautiful, juicy, soft, vibrant,, 
sweet-smelling, sweet-breathed machine for provoking and satisfy- 

321 



ing the appetite (and that was the Lois I had married), all was well 
But as soon as I began to regard her as a person, trouble began. All 
would have been well, perhaps, had Lois been struck dumb at 
puberty. Then no man could have withstood her. But she could 
talk, and when something talks you sooner or later begin to listen 
to the sound it makes and begin, even in the face of all other evi- 
dence, to regard it as a person. You begin to apply human standards 
to it, and the human element infects your innocent Eden pleasure 
in the juicy, sweet-breathed machine. I had loved Lois the machine, 
the way you love the hlet mignon or the Georgia peach, but I defi- 
nitely was not in love with Lois the person. In fact, as the realiza- 
tion grew that the raachine-Lois belonged to, and was the instru- 
ment of, the person-Lois (or at least to the thing which could talk), 
the machine-Lois which I had innocently loved began to resemble 
a beautiful luscious bivalve open and pulsing in the glimmering 
deep and I some small speck of marine life being drawn remorse- 
lessly. Or it resembled the butt of wine in which the duke was 
drowned, and I was sure-God the Duke of Clarence. Or it resembled 
a greedy, avid, delicious quagmire which would swallow up the lost, 
benighted traveler with a last tired, liquid, contented sigh. Yes, in 
that greedy, delicious quagmire, the solemn temples, the gorgeous 
palaces, towers, battlements, libraries, museums, huts, hospitals, 
houses, cities, and all the works of man might be swallowed up, 
with that last luxurious sigh. Or so, I recall, it seemed. But the 
paradox is that as long as Lois was merely the machine-Lois, as long 
as she was simply a well-dressed animal, as long as she was really a 
part of innocent nonhuman nature, as long as I hadn’t begun to 
notice that the sounds she made were words, there was no harm in 
her and no harm in the really extraordinary pleasure she could pro- 
vide. It was only when I observed that this Lois was mixed up with 
the other Lois, with certain human traits, that I began to feel that 
all the works of man might be swallowed up in the quagmire. It is 
a delicate paradox. 

I did not make a decision not to be swallowed up. The instinct 
for self-preservation is more deep-seated than decision. A man 
doesn’t make a decision to swim when he falls into the creek. He 
starts kicking. I simply began to wriggle and squirm and kick. First, 
I recall, there was the matter of Lois’s friends (no friends of mine 
ever set foot in the slick apartment, if as a matter of fact, the people 
I knew in the city room and the speak-easy and the press club could 
be called friends). I began to take a distaste to the friends Lois had. 
There was nothing particularly wrong with them. They were just 
the ordinary garden variety of human garbage. There were some 

322 



who had what Lois, who was not too well informed oii the subject, 
regarded as “position” but who didn't have much money and liked 
Lois's free likker. There were some who didn't have any “position'* 
but who had more money than Lois and knew which fork to use. 
And there were some who didn't have very much of either position 
or money, but who had some credit at the better clothing stores and 
who could be bullied by Lois. They all read Vanity Fair or Harper's 
Bazaar (according to sex, and some read both) and Smart Set, and 
they quoted Dorothy Parker, and those who had been merely to 
Chicago licked tlie spittle of those who had been to New York, and 
those who had been merely to New York licked the spittle of those 
who had been to Paris. As I say, there was nothing particularly 
wrong with those people, many of whom were quite agreeable and 
attractive. The only thing I found wrong with them, I admit as I 
look back, was that they were Lois's friends. First, I developed a 
certain reserve in my dealings with them, then I developed an atti* 
tude which Lois defined as snotty. After one of my exhibitions Lois 
would try to discipline me by withholding the sweets of her gender. 

That was the matter of Lois's friends. But there was, second, the 
matter of Lois’s apartment. J took a distaste for the apartment, I 
told Lois I didn't want to live there. That we would get a place on 
which I could afford to pay the rent out of my salary. We had some 
rows on that point, rows which I didn't expect to win. Then the 
sweets would be withheld. 

That was the matter of the apartment. But there was, third, the 
matter of my clothes and what Lois loved to call my “grooming." 
I was accustomed to thirty-dollar suits, shirts that had been worn 
two days, a bimonthly haircut, unpolished shoes, a hat with a brim 
that looped and sagged, and fingernails always broken and some* 
times dirty. And I regarded the habit of pressing pants as something 
which had not come to stay. In the early days when I looked on Lois 
as merely the luscious machine, I had allowed certain scarcely per- 
ceptible changes to be made in my appearance. But as I began to 
realize that the noises she made with her mouth resembled human 
speech and were more than rudimentary demands for, or expres- 
sions of gratification at, food or copulation, a certain resistance be- 
gan to grow in me. And as the pressure to improve my grooming 
increased, so the resistance increased, too. More and more often, 
accustomed objects of my wardrobe disappeared, to be replaced by 
proclaimed or surreptitious gifts. Originally I had interpreted these 
gifts as springing from a misguided and love-inspired attempt to 
give me pleasure. In the end I understood that my pleasure was the 
last consideration involved. The crisis came when I polished a shoe 

323 



with a new tie. A row ensued, the first of many occasioned by the 
divergence of our tastes in haberdashery. And the sweets would be 
withheld on that count. 

They were withheld on many counts. But never for very long at 
a stretch. Sometimes I would capitulate and apologize. My earl} 
apologies were sometimes sad and, for the moment, even sincere, 
though sometimes sincere with a kind of self-pity. Then later, they 
became masterpieces of irony, double-eniendre, and histrionics, and 
I would lie in bed, uttering them, aware that my face in the dark 
was twisted into a mask of self-congratulatory cunning, bitterness, 
and loathing. But I wasn't always the one to crack first, for some- 
times the juicy machine-Lois got the upper hand over the dry and 
brittle person-Lois. She might utter an invitation in a low voice 
tense with hatred, and then in the subsequent process avert her face 
from me, or if she did look at me, she would glare like a cornered 
animal. Or if she did not invite me, she might collapse in the heat 
of a scuffle which she had undertaken against me in all seriousness 
but which had proved too much for the dry and brittle person-Lois 
and had given the other Lois the upper hand. In any case, whether 
she cracked or I, we demonstrated, in the midst of tangled bed- 
clothes, unspoken loathing, and the wreckage of somebody's self- 
respect, that we were, as Lois had affirmed to her guests, perfectly 
adjusted sexually. And we were. 

The fact that the adjustment was so perfect merely meant that 
in the end, with the deep-seated instinct for self-preservation, I was 
consorting with common whores. I was at that time on the evening 
edition, and finished my stint about two in the afternoon. After a 
couple of drinks and a late lunch in a speak-easy, then a couple 
more drinks and a game of billiards at the press club, I might call 
on one of my friends. Then at dinner, if I managed to get home to 
dinner, and in the evening I would study Lois with a clinical de- 
tachment and a sense of mystic regeneration. It even got so that 
almost at will I could produce an optical illusion. I could look at 
Lois in a certain way and find that she seemed to be withdrawing 
steadily, the whole room elongating with her, until it would be as 
though I were staring at her through the wrong end of a pair of 
binoculars. By this practice I gained great spiritual refreshment. I 
finally grew so adept at it that I could hear her voice, if it was one 
of her vituperative and not sullen evenings, as though it were com- 
ing from a great distance and were not, as a matter of fact, even 
addressed to me. 

Then came the final phase, the phase of the Great Sleep. Immedi- 
ately after dinner every evening, I went to bed and slept soundly, 

324 



with the sweet feeling of ever falling toward the center of delicious 
blackness, until the last possible moment the next morning. Some- 
times I did not even wait for dinner and the pleasure of observing 
Lois. I would just go to bed. I remember that this became almost 
a habit in the late spring. I would come in from my afternoon's 
occupation and draw the shade in the bedroom and go to bed, with 
the mild light oozing in from around the shade and birds twittering 
and caroling in the trees of the little park next the apartment build- 
ing and children calling musically from the playground in the park. 
Going to bed in the late spring afternoon or just at the beginning 
of twilight, with those sounds in your ears, gives you a wonderful 
sense of peace, a peace which must resemble the peace ot old age 
after a well-spent life. 

But of course there was Lois. Sometimes she would come into 
my bedroom— by this time I had moved into the guest room for my 
serious sleeping— and sit on the edge of the bed and give me long 
descriptions of myself, rather monotonous descriptions, as a matter 
of fact, for Lois had little gift of phrase and had to fall back on the 
three or four classic terms. Sometimes she would beat me with her 
clenched fists. She had a feeble, female way of using her little white 
fists. I could sleep through the descriptions, and almost through the 
beating of the clenched fists on my side or back. Sometimes she 
would cry and give vent to a great deal of self-pity. Once or twice 
she even snuggled into bed with me. Sometimes she would open the 
door to my room and turn up the phonograph in the living room 
until the joint shook. But no soap. I could sleep through anything, 
or just about. 

Then the morning came when I opened my eyes and felt the 
finger of Fate upon me; I knew the time had come. I got up and 
packed my suitcase and walked out the door and didn't come back. 
To the slick apartment and to Lois who was beautiful and to whom 
I was so perfectly adjusted. 

I never saw her again, but I know what she looks like now when 
cocktails, bonbons, late hours, and nearly forty years have done 
their work on the peach bloom of cheeks, the pearly, ripe but vigor- 
ous bosom, the supple midriff, the brooding, black, velvety-liquid 
eyes, the bee-stung lips, the luxurious thighs. She sits on a divan 
somewhere, held more or less in shape by the vigor of a masseuse 
and the bands of lastex which secretly sheathe her like a mummy, 
but bloated with the entire universe she has ingurgitated with a 
long delicious sigh. And now with a hand on which the pointed 
nails are as red as though she had just used them to rip greedily the 
guts from a yet living sacrificial fowl, she reaches out to a silver dish 

325 



to pick up a chocolate. And while the chocolate is yet in mid-air, the 
lower lip drops open and beyond the purplish tint of the micro- 
scopically scaling veneer of lipstick, one sees the damp, paler red, 
expectant membranes of the mouth, and the faint glitter of a gold 
filling in the dark, hot orifice. 

Good-bye, Lois, and I forgive you for everything I did to you. 

As for the way Anne Stanton went meanwhile, the story is short. 
After two years at the refined female college in Virginia she came 
home. Adam by this time was in medical school up East. Anne spent 
a year going to parties in the city, and got engaged. But nothing 
came of it. He was a decent, intelligent, prosperous fellow, too. 
After a while there was another engagement, but something hap- 
pened again. By this time Governor Stanton was nearly an invalid, 
and Adam was studying abroad. Anne quit going to parties, except 
an occasional party at the Landing in the summer. She stayed at 
home with her father, giving him his medicine, patting his pillow, 
assisting the nurse, reading to him hour by hour, holding his hand 
in the summer twilights or in the winter evenings when the house 
shook to the blasts off the sea. It took him seven years to die. After 
the Governor had died in the big tester bed with a lot of expensive 
medical talent leaning over him, Anne Stanton lived in the house 
fronting the sea, with only the company of Aunt Sophonisba, a 
feeble, grumbling, garrulous, and incompetent old colored woman, 
who combined benevolence and a vengeful tyranny in the ambigu- 
ous way known only to old colored women who have spent their 
lives in aflEectionate service, in prying, wheedling, and chicanery, in 
short-lived rebelliousness and long irony, and in secondhand clothes. 
Then Aunt Sophonisba died, too, and Adam came back from 
abroad, loaded with academic distinctions and fanatically devoted 
to his work. Shortly after his return, Anne moved to the city to be 
near him. By this time she was pushing thirty. 

She lived alone in a small apartment in the city. Occasionally she 
had lunch with some woman who had been a friend of her girlhood 
but who now inhabited another world. Occasionally she went to a 
party, at the house of one of the women or at the country club. She 
became engaged for a third time, this time to a man seventeen or 
eighteen years older than she, a widower with several children, a 
substantial lav7er, a pillar of society. He was a good man. He was 
still vigorous and rather handsome. He even had a sense of humor. 
But she did not marry him. More and more, as the years passed, she 
devoted herself to sporadic reading— biography (Daniel Boone or 
Marie Antoinette), what is called “good fiction,’' books on social 

326 



betterment— and to work without pay for a settlement house and an 
orphanage. She kept her looks very well and continued, in a rather 
severe way, to pay attention to her dress. There were moments now 
when her laugh sounded a little hollow and brittle, the laughter of 
nerves not of mirth or good spirits. Occasionally in a conversation 
she seemed to lose track and fall into a self-absorption, to start up 
overwhelmed by embarrassment and unspoken remorse. Occasion- 
ally, too, she practiced the gesture of lifting her hands to her brow, 
one on each side, the fingers just touching the skin or lifting back 
the hair, the gesture of a delicate distraction. She was pushing 
thirty-five. But she could still be good company. 

That was the Anne Stanton whom Willie Stark had picked out, 
who had finally betrayed me, or rather, had betrayed an idea of 
mine which had had more importance for me than I had ever real- 
ized. 

That was why I had got into my car and headed west, because 
when you don’t like it where you are you always go west. We have 
always gone west. 

That was why I drowned in West and relived my life like a home 
movie. 

That was why I came to lie on a bed in a hotel in Long Beach, 
California, on the last coast amid the grandeurs of nature. For that 
is where you come, after you have crossed oceans and eaten stale 
biscuits while prisoned forty days and nights in a storm-tossed rat- 
trap, after you have sweated in the greenery and heard the savage 
whoop, after you have built cabins and cities and bridged rivers, 
after you have lain with women and scattered children like millet 
seed in a high wind, after you have composed resonant documents, 
made noble speeches, and bathed your arms in blood to the elbows, 
after you have shaken with malaria in the marshes and in the icy 
wind across the high plains. That is where you come, to lie alone 
on a bed in a hotel room in Long Beach, California. Where I lay, 
while outside my window a neon sign flickered on and off to the 
time of my heart, systole and diastole, flushing and flushing again 
the gray sea mist with a tint like blood. 

I lay there, having drowned in West, my body having drifted 
down to lie there in the comforting, subliminal ooze on the sea floor 
of History. Lying there, I had what I thought then was a fine per- 
spective on my own history, and saw that the girl I had known that 
summer a long time back hadn’t been beautiful and charming but 
had merely been smooth-faced and healthy, and though she had 
sung songs to Jackie-Bird while she cradled his head on her breast, 
she hadn’t loved him, but had merely had a mysterious itch in th^ 

327 



blood and he was handy and the word love was a word for the mys- 
terious itch. And that she had been tormented by the mysterious 
itch and torn between its impulse and fear, and that all her with- 
holdments and hesitations had not been prompted by some dream 
of making “love mean something’^ and making me understand that 
dream but that they had been prompted by all the fears which the 
leaning, sibilant, sour-breathed old dough-faces of conventional so- 
ciety had whispered into her ear like fairy godmothers while she 
lay in her cradle, and that those withholdments and hesitations 
were no better or worse than the hottest surrender nor better or 
worse than those withholdments practiced by Lois for other ends. 
And in die end you could not tell Anne Stanton from Lois Seager, 
for they were alike, and though the mad poet William Blake wrote 
a poem to tell the Adversary who is Prince of This World that He 
could not ever change Kate into Nan, the mad poet was quite 
wrong, for anybody could change Kate into Nan, or if indeed the 
Prince couldn*t change Kate into Nan it was only because Kate and 
Nan were exactly alike to begin with and were, in fact, the same 
with only the illusory difference of name, which meant nothing, for 
names meant nothing and all the words we speak meant nothing 
and there was only the pulse in the blood and the twitch of the 
nerve, like a dead frog's leg in the experiment when the electric 
current goes through. So when I lay there on the bed in Long 
Beach, and shut my eyes, I saw in the inxvard darkness as in mire 
the vast heave and contortion of numberless bodies, and limbs de- 
tached from bodies, sweating and perhaps bleeding from inexhaus- 
ible wounds. But finally this spectacle, which I could summon up 
by the mere act of closing my eyes, seemed merely funny to me. So 
I laughed out loud. 

I laughed out loud, and then after watching for some time the 
rhythmic flushing of the sea mist by the neon sign, I went to sleep. 
When I woke up I made ready to go back to the place and the 
things I had come from. 

Years before, a young girl had lain there naked on the iron bed 
in my room with her eyes closed and hei hands folded over her 
breast, and I had been so struck by the pathos of her submissiveness 
and her trust in me and of the moment which would plunge her 
into the full, dark stream of the world that I had hesitated before 
laying my hands upon her and had, without understanding myself, 
called out her name. At that time I had had no words for what I 
felt, and now, too, it is difficult to find them. But lying there, she 
had seemed to be again the little girl who had, on the day of the 
picnic, floated on the waters of the bay, with her eyes closed under 

328 



the stormy and grape-purple sky and the single white gull passing 
over, very high. As she lay there that image came into my head, and 
I had wanted to call her name, to tell her something—what, I did 
not know. She trusted me, but perhaps for that moment of hesita- 
tion I did not trust myself, and looked back upon the past as some- 
thing precious about to be snatched away from us and was afraid of 
the future. I had not understood then what I think I have now 
come to understand: that we can keep the past only by having the 
future, for they are forever tied together. Therefore I lacked some 
essential confidence in the world and in myself. She came, as time 
passed, to suspect this fact about me. I do not know that she had 
words to describe the fact to herself. Or she only had the easy words 
people gave her: wanting to have a job, studying law, doing some- 
thing. 

We went different ways in the world, as I have said, but I had 
with me always that image of the little girl on the waters of the bay, 
all innocence and trustfulness, under the stormy sky. Then, there 
came the day when that image was taken from me. I learned that 
Anne Stanton had become the mistress of Willie Stark, that some- 
how by an obscure and necessary logic I had handed her over to 
him. That fact was too horrible to face, for it robbed me of some- 
thing out of the past by which, unwittingly until that moment, I 
had been living. 

So I fled west from the fact, and in the West, at the end of His- 
tory, the Last Man on that Last Coast, on my hotel bed, I had dis- 
covered the dream. That dream was the dream that all life is but 
the dark heave of blood and the twitch of the nerve. When you flee 
as far as you can flee, you will always find that dream, which is- the 
dream of our age. At first, it is always a nightmare and horrible, but 
in the end it may be, in a special way, rather bracing and tonic. At 
least, it was so for me for a certain time. It was bracing because 
after the dream I felt that, in a way, Anne Stanton did not exist. 
The words Anne Stanton were simply a name for a peculiarly com- 
plicated piece of mechanism which should mean nothing whatso- 
ever to Jack Burden, who himself was simply another rather com- 
plicated piece of mechanism. At that time, when I first discovered 
that view of things— really discovered, in my own way and not from 
any book— I felt that 1 had discovered the secret source of all 
strength and all endurance. That dream solves all problems. 

At first It was, as I have said, rather bracing and tonic. For after 
the dream there is no reason why you should not go back and face 
the fact which you have fled from (even if the fact seems to be that 
you have, by digging up the truth about die past, handed over Anne 

329 



Stanton to Willie Stark), for any place to which you may flee wiU 
now be like the place from which you have fled, and you might as 
well go back, after aU. to the place where you belong, for nothing 
was your fault or anybody’s fault, for things are always as they are. 
And you can go back in good spirits, for you will have learned two 
very great truths. First, that you cannot lose what you have never 
Second, that you are never guilty of a crime which you did not 
commit. So there is innocence and a new start in the West, after aU. 

If you believe the dream you dream when you go there. 


330 



Chapter Eight 


so HAVING lain on the bed in Long Beach, California, and seen 
what I had seen, I rose, much refreshed, and headed back with the 
morning sun in my face. It threw in my direction the shadows of 
white or pink or baby-blue stucco bungalows (Spanish mission, 
Moorish, or American-cute in style), the shadows of filling stations 
resembling the gingerbread house of fairy tale or Anne Hathaway's 
cottage or an Eskimo igloo, the shadows of palaces gleaming on hills 
among the arrogant traceries of eucalyptus, the shadows of leonine 
hunched mountains, the shadow of a boxcar forgotten on a lonely 
siding, and the shadow of a man walking toward me on a white 
road out of the distance which glittered like quartz. It threw the 
beautiful purple shadow of the whole world in my direction, as I 
headed back, but I kept right on going, at high speed, for if you 
have really been to Long Beach, California, and have had your 
dream on the hotel bed, then there is no reason why you should 
not return with a new confidence to wherever you came from, for 
now you know, and knowledge is power. 

You can put your throttle to the floor and let the sixty-horse- 
power mystery whine like a wolfhound straining on leash. 

I passed the man who was walking toward me, and his face 
whirled away like a scrap of paper in a gale or boyhood hopes. And 
I laughed out loud. 

I saw the people walking in the plaza of little towns in the desert. 
I saw the waitress in the restaurant wave in feeble protest at the fly 
while the electric fan needled the air which was as thin and hot as 
the breath of a blast furnace. I saw the traveling salesman who 
stood at the hotel desk just ahead of me and said, “You call this a 
hotel, bud, and me wiring for a room and bath and you ain't held 
it. It's a wonder you got a room and bath in a burg like this." I saw 
the sheepherder standing alone on an enormous mesa. 1 saw the 
Indian woman with eyes the color of blackstrap molasses looking, 
at me over a pile of pottery decorated with the tribal symbols of life 

hn 



and fertility and eminently designed for the five-and-ten-cent-store 
trade. As I looked at all these people I felt great strength in my 
viccret knowledge. 

I remembered how once, long back when Willie Stark had been 
the dinrxmy and the sap, at the time when he was Cousin Willie from 
die country and was running for governor the first time, I had gone 
over to the flea-bitten west part of the state to cover the barbecue 
and speaking at Upton. I had gone on the local, which had yawed 
and puffed for hours across the cotton fields and then across the 
sagebrush. At one little town where it stopped, I had looked out of 
the window and thought how the board or wire fences around the 
little board houses were inadequate to keep out the openness of the 
humped and sage-furred country which seemed ready to slide in and 
eat up the houses. I had thought how the houses didn't look as 
though they belonged there, improvised, flung down, ready to be 
abandoned, with the scraps of washing still on the line, for there 
wouldn't be time to grab it off when the people finally realized they 
had to go and go quick. I had had that thought, but just as the train 
was pulling out, a woman had come to the back door of one of the 
nearest houses to fling out a pan of water. She flings the water out, 
then looks a moment at the train drawing away, then deliberately 
enters the house. She is not going to run away. She is going into the 
house to some secret which is there, some knowledge. And as the 
train pulled away, I had had the notion that I was the one running 
away and had better run fast for it was going to be dark soon. I had 
thought of that woman as having a secret knowledge, and had en- 
vied her. I had often envied people. People I had seen fleetingly, or 
some pec pie I had known a long time, a man driving a long, 
straight furrow across a black field in April, or Adam Stanton. I 
had, at moments, envied the people who seemed to have a secret 
knowledge. 

But now, as I whirled eastward, over desert, under the shadow 
of mountains, by mesas, across plateaus, and saw the people in that 
magnificent empty country, I did not think that I would ever have 
to envy anybody again, for I was sure that now I had the secret 
knowledge, and with knowledge you can face up to anything, for 
knowledge is power. 

In a settlement named Don Jon, New Mexico, I talked to a man 
propped against the shady side of the filling station, enjoying the 
only patch of shade in a hundred miles due east. He was an old 
fellow, seventy-five if a day, with a face like sun-brittled leather and 
pale-blue eyes under the brim of a felt hat which had once been 
black. The only thing remarkable about him was the fact that while 

332 



you looked into the sun-brittled leather of the face, *which seemed 
as stiff and devitalized as the hide on a mummy's jawr, you would 
suddenly see a twitch in the left cheek, up* toward the pale-blue eye. 
You would think he was going to wink, but he wasn’t going to 
wink. The twitch was simply an independent phenomenon, unre* 
lated to the face or to what was behind the face or t'o anything in 
the whole tissue of phenomena which is the world we are lost in. 
It was remarkable, in that face, the twitch which lived that little 
life all its own. I squatted by his side, where he sat on a bundle of 
rags from which the handle of a tin skillet protruded, and listened 
to him talk. But the words were not alive. What was alive was the 
twitch, of which he was no longer aware. 

After my tank had been filled, I continued to watch that twitch, 
with glances stolen from the highway, as we sat side by side in the 
car and hurtled eastward. He was going east, too, going back. That 
was back in the days when the dust storms were blowing half the 
country away and folks headed west like the lemmings on a ram- 
page. Only, the folks who got there lacked the fine ecstasy of the 
lemmings. They did not start swimming in teeming, obsessed hordes 
straight out to the middle of the blue Pacific. That would have 
been the logical thing for them to do, just start swimming, pa and 
ma, grandpa and grandma, and Baby Rosebud with the running 
sore on her little chin, the whole kit and kaboodle of 'em, flailing 
the water to a froth and heading out. But, no, they were not like 
the lemmings, and so they just sat down and starved slowly in Cali- 
fornia. But this old fellow didn't. He was going back to north 
Arkansas to starve where he had come from. “Californy," he said, 
'‘hit is jes lak the rest of the world, only it is more of hit." 

“Yeah," I replied, “that is a fact." 

“You been thar?" he demanded. 

I told him I had been there. 

“You goen back home?" he asked. 

I told him I was going home. 

We rode across Texas to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he left me 
to try for north Arkansas. I did not ask him if he had learned the 
truth in California. His face had learned it anyway, and wore the 
final wisdom under the left eye. The face knew that the twitch was 
the live thing. Was all. But, having left that otherwise unremark- 
able man, it occurred to me, as I reflected upon the thing which 
made him remarkable, that if the twitch was all, what was it that 
could know that the twitch was all? Did the leg of the dead frog in 
the laboratory know that the twitch was all when you put the elec- 
tric current through it? Did the man's face know about the twitch, 

m 



and how it was all? And if I was all twitch how did the twitch which 
was me know that the tw|tch was all? Ah, I decided, that is the mys- 
tery. That is the secret knowledge. That is what you have to go to 
California to have a mystic vision to find out. That the twitch can 
know that the twitch is all. Then, having found that out, in the 
mystic vision, you feel clean and free. You are at one with the Great 
Twitch. 

So I kept on riding east, and after long enough I was home. 

I got back, late at night, and went to bed. The next morning I 
turned up at the office, well rested and w^ll shaved, and strolled in 
to say howdy-do to the Boss. I had a great desire to see him, to ob- 
sei*ve him closely and find if there was anything in his make-up 
which I had previously missed. I had to look at him very closely, for 
he was the man who had everything now, and I had nothing. Or 
rather, I corrected myself, he had everything, except the thing I had, 
the great thing, the secret. So I corrected myself, and in much the 
mood of a priest who looks down with benign pity on the sweat and 
striving, I entered the Governor's office, and walked past the recep- 
tionist and, with a perfunctory knock, into the inside. 

There he was, and he hadn't changed a bit. 

'^Hello, Jack," he said, and swiped the forelock out of his eyes 
and swung his feet off the desk and came toward me, putting out his 
hand, *Vhere the hell you been, boy?" 

“Out West," I said, with elaborate casualness, taking the prof- 
fered hand. “Just drove out West. I got sort of fed up round here, 
so I took me a little vacation." 

“Have a good time?" 

“1 had a wonderful time," I said. 

“Fine," he said, ^ 

“How you been making out?" I asked. 

“Fine," he said, “everything is fine." 

And so I had come home to the place where everything vas fine. 
Everything was fine just the way it had been before I left, except 
that now I knew the secret. And my secret knowledge cut me off. If 
yc5ru have the secret, you cannot really communicate any more with 
somebody who has not got it, any more than you can really com- 
municate with a bustling vitamin-crammed brat who is busy with 
his building blocks or a tin drum. And you can't take somebody off 
to one side and tell him the secret. If you do that, then the fellow, 
or female, you are trying to tell the truth to thinks you are feeling 
sorry for yourself and asking for sympathy, when the real case is 
that you are not asking for sympathy but for congratulations. So I 

334 



did my daily tasks and ate my daily bread and saw the old familiar 
faces, and smiled benignly like a priest. 

It was June, and hot. Every night, except those nights when I 
went to sit in an air-conditioned movie, I went to my room after 
dinner and stripped buck-naked and lay on the bed, with an electric 
fan burring and burrowing away into my brain, and read a book 
until the time when I would become aware that the sound of the 
city had sunk off to almost nothing but the single hoot of a taxi far 
off or the single lost clang and grind of a streetcar, an owl car head- 
ing out. Then I would reach up and switch off the light and roll 
over and go to sleep with the fan still burring and burrowing. 

I did see Adam a few times in June. He was more deeply involved 
than before in the work of the medical center, more grimly and icily 
driving himself. There was, of course, some letup in the work at the 
University with the end of term, but whatever relief was there, was 
more than made up for by an increase in his private practice and 
work at the clinic. He said he was glad to see me when I went to his 
apartment, and maybe he was, but he didn’t have much to say, and 
as I sat there he would seem to be drawing deeper and deeper into 
himself until I had the feeling that I was trying to talk to somebody 
down a well and had better holler if I wanted to be understood. 
The only time he perked up was one night when, after he had re» 
marked on the fact that he was to perform an operation the next 
morning, I asked about the case. 

It was^a case of catatonic schizophrenia, he said. 

**You mean he is a nut?” I asked. 

Adam grinned and allowed that that wasn’t too far wrong. 

“I didn’t know you cut on folks for being nutty,” I said. “I 
thought you just humored and gave them cold baths and let them 
make raffia baskets and got them to tell you their dreams.” 

“No,” he said, “you can cut on them.” Then he added, almost 
apologetically, “A prefrontal lobectomy.” 

“What’s that?” 

“You remove a piece of the frontal lobe of the brain on each 
side,” he said. 

I asked would the fellow live. He said you never could tell foi? 
sure, but if he did live he would be different. 

I asked how did he mean, different. 

“Oh, a different personality,” he replied. 

“Like after you get converted and baptized?” 

“That doesn’t give you a different personality,” he said. “When 
you get converted you still have the same personality. You merely 
exercise it in terms of a different set “of values.” 

335 



'*But this fellow will have a different personality?*’ 

'Tes,” Adam said. “The way he is now he simply sits on a chair 
or lies on his back on a bed and stares into space. His brow is 
creased and furrowed. Occasionally he utters a low moan or an ex- 
clamation. In some such cases we discover the presence of delusions 
of persecution. But always the patient seems to experience a numb- 
ing, grinding misery. But after we are through with him he will be 
different. He will be relaxed and cheerful and friendly. He will 
smooth his brow. He will sleep well and eat well and will love to 
hang over the back fence and compliment the neighbors on their 
nasturtiums and cabbages. He will be perfectly happy.” 

“If you can guarantee results like that,” I said, “you ought to do 
a land-office business. As soon as the news gets round.” 

“You can’t ever guarantee anything,” Adam said. 

“What happens if it doesn’t come out according to Hoyle?” 

“Weil,” he said, “there have been cases— not mine, thank God— 
where the patient didn’t become cheerfully extroverted but became 
completely and cheerfully amoral.” 

“You mean he would throw the nurses down right on the floor in 
broad daylight?” 

“About that,” Adam said. “If you’d let him. All the ordinary 
inhibitions disappeared.” 

“Well, if your guy tomorrow comes out like that he will certainly 
be an asset to society.” 

Adam grinned sourly, and said, “He won’t be any worse than a 
lot of other people who haven’t been cut on.” 

“Can I see the cutting?” I asked. I felt all of a sudden that I had 
to see it. I had never seen an operation. As a newspaperman, I had 
seen three hangings and one electrocution, but they are different. 
In a hanging you do not change a man’s personality. You just 
change the length of his neck and give him a quizzical expression, 
and in an electrocution you just cook some bouncing meat in a 
wholesale lot. But this operation was going to be more radical even 
than what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus. So I asked 
could I see the operation. 

“Why?” Adam asked, studying my face. 

I told him it was plain curiosity. 

He said, all right, but it wouldn’t be pretty. 

“It will be as pretty as a hanging, I guess,” I replied. 

Then he started to tell me about the case. He drew me pictures 
and he got down books. He perked up considerably and almost 
talked my ear off. He was so interesting that I forgot to ask him a 
question which had flitted through my mind earlier in our con- 

336 



versation. He had said that in the case of a religious conversion the 
personality does not change, that it is merely exercised in terms of 
a different set of values. Well, I had meant to ask him how, if there 
was no change in personality, how did the person get a different set 
of values to exercise his personality in terms of? But it slipped my 
mind at the time. 

Anyway, I saw the operation. 

Adam got me rigged up so I could go right down in the pit with 
him. They brought in the patient and put him on the table. He 
was a hook-nosed, sour- faced, gaunt individual who reminded me 
vaguely of Andrew Jackson or a back-country evangelist despite the 
white turban on his head made out of sterile towels. But that tur- 
ban was pushed pretty far back at a jaunty angle, for the front part 
of his head was exposed. It had been shaved. They put the mask 
on him and knocked him out. Then Adam took a scalpel and cut a 
neat little cut across the top of the head and down at each temple, 
and then just peeled the skin off the bone in a neat flap forward. 
He did a job that would have made a Comanche brave look like a 
tyro with a scalping knife. Meanwhile, they w^ere sopping up the 
blood, which was considerable. 

Then Adam settled down to the real business. He had a contrap- 
tion like a brace and bit. With that he drilled five or six holes— burr 
holes they call them in the trade— on each side of the skull. Then 
he started to work with what he had told me earlier was a Gigli saw, 
a thing which looked like a coarse xvire. With that he sawed on the 
bone till he had a flap loose on each side of the front of the head 
and could bend the flap down and get at the real mechanism inside. 
Or could as soon as he had cut the pale little membrane which they 
call the meninges. 

By that time it had been more than an hour, or so it seemed to 
me, and ray feet hurt. It was hot in there, too, but I didn't get upset, 
even with the blood. For one thing, tlie man there on the table 
didn’t seem real. I forgot that he was a man at all, and kept watch- 
ing the high-grade carpenter work which was going on. I didn’t pay 
much attention to the features of the process which did indicate 
that the thing on the table was a man. For instance, the nurse kept 
on taking blood-pressure readings and now and then she would 
mess with the transfusion apparatus— for they were giving the 
patient a transfusion all the time out of a bottle rigged up on a 
stand with a tube coming down. 

I did fine until they started the burning. For taking out the 
chunks of brain they use an electric gadget which is nothing but a 
little metal rod stuck in a handle with an electric cord coming out 

337 



o£ the handle. The whole thing looks like an electric curling iron. In 
fact, all the way through I was struck by the notion that all the ex- 
pensive apparatus was so logical and simple and homey, and re- 
minded me so completely of the stufii around any well-equipped 
household. By ransacking the kitchen and your wife’s dressing table 
you can get together in five minutes enough of a kit to set up in 
business for yourself. 

Well, in the process of electrocautery this little rod does the trick 
of cutting, or rather burning. And there is some smoke and quite 
a lot of odor. At least, it seemed like a lot to me. At first it wasn’t 
so bad, but then I knew where I had smelled an odor like that be- 
fore. It was the night, long back when I was a kid, when the old 
livery stable had burned down at the Landing and they hadn’t 
managed to get all the horses out. The smell of the cooking horses 
was on the still, damp, ripe night air and you couldn’t forget it, 
even after you didn’t hear any more the shrieks the horses had 
made. As soon as I realized that the burning brain had a smell like 
the burning horses, I didn’t feel good. 

But I stuck it out. It took a long time, hours more, for they can’t 
cut but a little bit of brain at a time, and have to keep working 
deeper and deeper. I stuck it out until Adam had sewed up the 
meninges and had pulled the skull flaps back into place and had 
drawn up the flap of skin and laced it down all shipshape. 

Then the little pieces of brain which had been cut out were put 
away to think their little thoughts quietly somewhere among the 
garbage, and what was left inside the split-open skull of the gaunt 
individual was sealed back up and left to think up an entirely new 
personality. 

When Adam and I went out, and he was washing up and we were 
getting our white nightshirts off, I said to him, ‘’Well, you forgot 
to baptize him.” 

“Baptize him?” Adam asked, sliding out of the white nightshirt 

“Yeah,” I said, “for he is born again and not of woman. I baptize 
thee in the name of the Big Twitch, the Little Twitch, and the 
Holy Ghost. Who, no doubt, is a Tv/itch, too.” 

“What the hell are you talking about?” he demanded. 

“Nothing,” I said, “I was just trying to be funny.” 

Adam put on a faint, indulgent smile, but he didn’t seem to think 
it was very funny. And looking back on it, I can’t find it very funny 
myself. But I thought it was funny at the time. I thought it would 
bust a gut. But that summer from the height of my Olympian wis- 
dom, I seemed to find a great many things funny which now do not 
appear quite as funny. 


338 



After the operation I did not see anything of Adam for quite a 
while. He went out of town, up East, on business, on some of the 
hospital business, I supposed. Then, shortly after he got back, the 
thing happened which just about left the Boss in the position of 
having to hunt up a new director. 

What happened was simple and predictable. One night Adam 
and Anne, who had had dinner together, mounted the stairs of the 
crummy apartment house to spy, on the landing before the door, a 
tali, thin, white-clad figure with a white Panama hat on its head, 
a cigar glowing in the shadow out of one side of the place where 
the mouth would be and putting out an expensive aroma to com- 
pete with the cabbage. The fellow took the white hat off, tucked it 
lightly under an elbow, and asked if Adam was Dr. Stanton. Adam 
said he was. So the fellow said his name was Coffee (the name is 
Hubert Coffee) and asked if he could come in for a minute. 

Adam and Anne went in, and Adam asked the fellow what he 
wanted. He stood there in his white, well-pressed suit and two-color 
shoes with, no doubt, intricate stitchings and ventilators in the 
leather (for I have found Hubert to be quite a dude— two white 
suits a day, and white silk shorts with red monograms, they say, and 
red silk socks and trick shoes), and hummed and hawed out of his 
knobby, long, squash-yellow face, and coughed discreetly, and sig- 
nificantly rolled his brown eyes (which are the color and texture of 
used motor oil) in the direction of Anne. Anne told me later, for 
she is my authority for the event, that she thought he was coming 
about being sick, so she excused herself and went back to the 
kitchen to put into the electric icebox a little carton of ice cream 
she had picked up at the corner drugstore. She was planning on a 
quiet little evening with Adam. (Though her quiet little visits with 
Adam that summer must have been less than restful for her. She 
must have always had in the back of her mind the question about 
what would happen when Adam found out how she was spending 
some of her other evenings. Or was she able to lock off that part of 
her mind, the way you lock off some of the rooms of a big house, 
and just sit in the cozy, or perhaps not now so cozy, parlor? And sit- 
ting there, did she listen always for the creak of floor or the cease- 
less tread of feet in the locked-off rooms upstairs?) 

After she had put the ice cream away, she noticed that some dirty 
dishes were piled up in the sink. So to keep out from under foot in 
the apartment while the men conferred she set about washing the 
dishes. She had about wound up the dishes, when suddenly the in- 
comprehensible drone of voices stopped. The sudden silence was 
what she noticed. Then there was a dry thump (that was the way 

339 



she described it), and her brother's voice saying, '‘Get outI’‘ Then 
there "was the sound of rapid rr»otion and the slaraming of the apar^ 
ment door. 

She went into the living room to find Adam standing in the mid- 
dle of the floor, very white in the face, nursing his right hand in 
his left across his stomach, and staring at the door. When Anne 
came in, he turned his head slowly to her and said, “I hit him. I 
didn^t mean to hit him. I never hit anybody before.*' 

He must have hit Hubert pretty hard, too, for his knuckle was 
split and swelling. Adam had a good weight of shoulder even if he 
was slender. Anyway he stood there nursing his split knuckle and 
wearing an expression of blank incredulity on his face. The in- 
credulity, apparently, was at his own behavior. 

Anne, very much agitated, asked him what was the trouble. 

The trouble was, as I have suggested, simple and predictable. 
Gummy Larson had sent Hubert Coffee, who, on account of his 
white suits and silk monogrammed drawers, was supposed to have 
finesse and the gendemanly approach, to try to persuade Dr. Stan- 
ton to use his influence to get the Boss to throw the basic medical- 
center contract to Larson. Adam didn’t know all of this, for we can 
be quite sure that Hubert had not named the behind-guy in the 
exploratory stages of the interview. But as soon as I heard the name 
Coffee I knew that it was Larson. Hubert never got past the ex- 
ploratory stages of the interview. But, apparently, he handled those 
stages rather broadly. At first, Adam didn’t get what he was driving 
at, and Hubert must have decided that any of his high-priced 
subtlety would be wasted on this dumb cluck and moved pretty 
directly to the point. He got as far as the idea that there would be 
some candy in it for Adam, before he finally touched the button 
which set off the explosion. 

Still caught in the incredulity and nursing the numbed hand, 
Adam stood there and in a distant voice told Anne what had hap- 
pened. Then, having finished he leaned down to pick up, with the 
good left hand, the cigar stub, which was slowly burning a hole in 
the old green carpet. He walked across the carpet, holding the stink- 
ing stub out at some length, and flung it into the fireplace, which 
still had in it (as I had noticed on my visits) the ashes of the last 
fire of spring and bits of paper and orange peel from the summer. 
Then he walked back across the carpet, and ground his foot on the 
smoldering place, probably with a kind of symbolic savagery. At 
least, I could imagine that picture. 

He went to his desk, sat down, took out pen and paper, and be- 
gan to write. When he had finished, he swung round to Anne, and 

MO 



announced that he had just written his resignation. She didn't say 
anything. Not a word. She knew, she told me, that there wasn’t any 
use trying to argue with him, to point out to him that it wasn’t the 
fault ot Governor Stark or the fault of the job that some crook had 
come and tried to bribe him. She knew from looking at his face that 
there wasn’t any use in talking. In other words, he must have been 
in the grip of an instinctive withdrawal, which took the form of 
moral indignation and moral revulsion, but whichi no doubt, was 
different from either, and more deep-seated than either, and finally 
irrational. He got up from the chair, and took a few strides about 
the room, apparently in great excitement. He seemed almost gay, 
Anne said, as though he were about to burst out laughing. He 
seemed happy that the whole thing had happened. Then he picked 
up the letter and stamped it. 

Anne was afraid that he would go out immediately to mail it, for 
he stood there in the middle of the floor, fingering it as though de- 
bating the issue. But he did not go out. Instead, he propped it on 
the mantelpiece, took a few more turns about the apartment, then 
flung himself down on the piano bench and started to beat out the 
music. He sat there and beat it for more than two hours in a breath- 
less July night, and the sweat ran down his face. Anne sat tliere, 
afraid, she told me, and not knowing what she was afraid of. 

When he got through, and turned his sweat-streaked white face 
toward her, she fetched the ice cream and they had a jolly little 
family party. Then she went out and got into her car and drove 
home. 

She telephoned me. I met her at an all-night drugstore, and across 
the imitation-marble top of the table in the booth, I saw her for the 
first time since the morning in May when she had stood at the door 
of her apartment and had read the question in my face and had 
slowly and wordlessly nodded the answer. When I heard her voice 
on the telephone that night, my heart took the little leap and ker- 
plunks like the frog into the lily pond, just as it had before, and 
for the moment what had happened might as well not have hap- 
pened. But it had happened, and what I had now as my cab wheeled 
me down-town to the all-night drugstore, was the wry and bilious 
satisfaction that I was being called on for some special reason the 
other fellow couldn’t be expected to answer. But the satisfaction 
forgot even to be wry and bilious and was, for the moment, just 
simple satisfaction when I stepped out of the cab and saw her stand- 
ing inside the glass doors of the drugstore, a trim erect figure in a 
light-green polka-dot dress with some kind of a white jacket hung 
across one of her bare arms. I tried to make out the expression on 

341 



her face, but before I could discover what it was, she spied me and 
smiled. 

It was a tentative, apologetic sort of smile, which said please and 
thank you and at the same time expressed an innocent and absolute 
confidence that your better nature would triumph. I walked across 
the hot pavement toward that smile and the green polka-dot figure 
which stood there behind the glass like something put in a show- 
case for you to admire but not touch. Then I laid my hand on the 
glass of the door, and pushed, and left the street, where the air was 
hot and sticky like a Turkish bath and where the smell of gasoline 
fumes mixed with the brackish, dead-sweet smell of the river which 
crept into the city on still nights in summer, and entered the bright, 
crisp, antiseptic, cool world behind the glass where the smile was, 
for there is nothing brighter, crisper, more antiseptic, and cooler 
than a really first-rate corner drugstore on a hot summer night If 
Anne Stanton is inside the door and the air conditioning is working. 

The smile was on me and the eyes looked straight at me and she 
put out her hand. I took it, thought how cool and small and firm 
it was, as tliough I were just discovering the fact, and heard her say, 
“It looks like I’m always calling you up, Jack.” 

“Oh, that’s O.K.,” I said, and released the hand. 

It couldn’t have been more than an instant we stood there then 
without saying anything, but it seemed a long and painfully embar- 
rassed time, as if neither of us knew what to say, before she said, 
“Let’s sit down.” 

I started to move back toward the booths. Out of the tail of my 
eye, I noticed that she made a motion, quickly suppressed, to hang 
on to my arm. As I noticed that fact, -the satisfaction which had 
been for the moment simple satisfaction, was again merely the wry 
and bilious satisfaction with which I had started out. And it stayed 
that kind, as I sat in the booth and looked at her face which was 
not smiling now and was showing the tensions and the tightness of 
the skin over the fine bone and showing, I suppose, the years that 
had gone by since the summer when we sat in the roadster and she 
sang to Jackie-Bird, and promised never to let anybody hurt poor 
Jackie-Bird. Well, she had kept her promise, all right, for Jackie- 
Bird had flown away that summer, before the fall came, to some 
place with a better climate where nobody would ever hurt him, and 
he had never come back. At least, I had never seen him since. 

Now she sat in the booth and told me, over our glasses of Coca 
Cola, what had happened in Adam’s apartment. 

“What do you want me to do?” I asked, when she got tlirough. 

“You know,” she said. 


842 



-‘You want me to make him stick to it?” 

*‘Yes/’ she said. 

*‘It’ll be hard.” 

She nodded. 

*ltll be hard,” I said, “because he is acting perfectly crazy. The 
only thing I can prove to him is that if this Coffee bastard tried to 
bribe him it only indicates that the job is on the level as long as 
Adam wants to keep it that way. It only indicates, furthermore, that 
somebody farther up the line had declined to take a bribe, too. It 
even indicates that Tiny Duffy is an honest man. “Or,” I added, 
“hasn't been able to deliver the goods.” 

“You will try?” she asked. 

“I'll try,” I said, “but don't get your hopes up. I can only prove 
to Adam what he would already know if he hadn’t gone crazy. He 
just has the high cantankerous moral shrinks. He does not like to 
play with the rough boys. He is afraid they might dirty his Lord 
Fauntleroy suit.” 

“That's not fair,” she burst out. 

I shrugged, then said, “Well, I'll try, anyway.” 

“What will you do?” 

“There is only one thing to do. I'll go to Governor Stark, get him 
to agree to arrest Coffee on the grounds of attempted bribery of an 
official— Adam is an official, you know— and call on Adam to swear 
to the charges. If he'll swear to them. That ought to make him see 
how things line up. That ought to show him the Boss will protect 
him. And—” to that point I had only been thinking of the Adam 
end but now my mind got to work on the possibilities of the situa- 
tion— “it wouldn't do the Boss any harm to hang a rap on Coffee. 
Particularly if he will squeal on the behind-guy. He might bust up 
Larson. And with Larson out, MacMurfee wouldn't mean much. 
He might hang it on Coffee, too, if you—” And I stopped dead. 

“If I what?” she demanded. 

“Nothing,” I said, and felt the way you do when you are driving 
merrily across the drawbridge, and all at once the span starts up. 

“What?” she demanded. 

I looked into her level eyes and saw the way her jaw was set, and 
knew that I might as well say it. She would work on me till she had 
it. So I said it. “If you will testify,” I said. 

“I’ll do it,” she said without hesitation. 

I shook my head. “No,” I said. 

“I'll do it.” 

“No, it won't wash.” 

“Why?” 


343 



“It just won’t After all, you didn't see anything." 

“I was there." 

“It would just be hearsay testimony. Absolutely that. It would 
never stand up." 

“I don't know," she said. “I don't know about those things. But 
I know this. I know that isn't the reason you changed your mind. 
What made you change your mind?" 

“You never have been on a witness stand. You don’t know what 
it is to have a mean, smart la%V)^er saw at you while you sweat.” 

“I’ll do it,” she said. 

“No." 

“I don't mind." 

“Listen here," I said, and shut my eyes and took the plunge off 
the end of the open drawbridge, “if you think Coffee's lawyer 
wouldn’t have plenty on the ball you are crazy as Adam. He would 
be mean and he would be smart and he would not have one 
damned bit of fine old Southern chivalry.” 

“You mean—” she began, and I knew from her face that she had 
caught the point, 

“Exactly,” I said. “Nobody may know anything now, but when 
the fun started they would know everything." 

“I don't care,” she afSrmed, and lifted her chin up a couple of 
notches. I saw the little creases in the flesh of her neck, just the 
tiniest little creases, the little mark left day after day by that abso- 
lutely infinitesimal gossamer cord of thuggee which time throws 
around the prettiest neck every day to garrote it. The cord is so 
gossamer that it breaks every day, but the marks get there finally, 
and finally one day the gossamer cord doesn't break and is enough. 
I looked at the marks when Anne lifted her chin, and realized that 
I had never noticed them before and would always notice them 
again. I suddenly felt awful— literally sick, as though I had been 
socked in the stomach, or as though I had met a hideous betrayal. 
Then before I knew it, the way I felt changed into anger, and I 
lashed out. 

“Yeah,” I said, “you don't care, but you forget one thing. You 
forget that Adam will be sitting right there looking at little sister." 

Her face was white as a sheet. 

Then she lowered her head a little and was looking at her hands, 
which were clenched together now around the empty Coca Cola 
glass. Her head was low enough so that I could not see her eyes, 
only the lids coming down over them. 

“My dear, my dear," I murmured. Then as I seized her hands 

344 



pressed around the glass, the words wrenched out of me, “Oh, Anne, 
why did you do it?** 

It was the one question I had never meant to ask. 

For a moment she did not answer. Then, without raising her 
eyes, she said in a low voice, “He wasn*t like anybody else. Not 
anybody else Fd ever known. And I love him. I love him, I guess. 
I guess that is the reason.** 

I sat there and reckoned I had asked for that one. 

She said, “Then you told me— you told me about my father. 
There wasn’t any reason why not then. After you told me." 

I reckoned I had asked for that one, too. 

She said, “He wants to marry me.** 

“Are you going to?'* 

“Not now. It would hurt him. A divorce would hurt him. Not 
now.** 

“Are you going to?** 

“Perhaps. Later. After he goes to the Senate. Next year.*’ 

One part of my mind was busy ticketing that away: The Senate 
next year. That means he won*t let old Scoggan go back. Funny he 
hadn*t told me. But the other part of my mind which was not the 
nice, cool, steel filing cabinet with alphabetical cards was boiling 
like a kettle of pitch. A big bubble heaved up and exploded out 
of the pitch, and it was my voice saying, “Well, I suppose you know 
what you are up to.*' 

“You don’t know him,** she said, her voice even lower than be- 
fore. “You’ve known him all these years and you don’t know him 
at all.** Then she had lifted her head and was looking straight into 
my eyes. “I’m not sorry,’* she said, quite distinctly. “Not for any- 
thing that’s happened.” 

I walked down the street in the hot darkness toward my hotel 
under a magnificent throbbing sky, breathing the oid gasoline 
fumes tlie day had left and the sweet, marshy smell of the river 
at low water which the night brought up into the streets, and 
thinking, yes, I knew' why she had done it. 

The answer was in all the years before, and the things in them 
and not in them. 

The answer was in me, for I had told her. 

I only told her the tmih, I said savagely to mysdf, tiud she ..an*t 
blame me for the truth! 

But was there some fatal appropriateness inherent in the vtiy 
nature of the world and of me that I should be the one to cel! h. r 
that truth? I had to ask myself that question, too. And I coulclo t 

345 



be sure of the answer. So I walked on down the street, turning that 
question over and over in my mind without any answer until the 
question lost meaning and dropped from my mind as something 
heavy drops from numb fingers. I would have faced the responsi- 
bility and die guilt, I was ready to do that, if I could know. But 
who is going to tell you? 

So I walked on, and after a while I remembered how she had 
said I had never known him. And the him was Willie Stark, whom 
I had known for the many years since Cousin Willie from the 
country, the Boy with the Christmas Tie, h^d walked into the back 
room of Slade's old place. Sure, I knew him. Like a book. I had 
known him a long time. 

Too long. I thought then, too long to know him. For maybe the 
time had blinded me, or rather I had not been aware of the pass- 
ing of time and always the round face of Cousin Willie had come 
between me and the other face so that I had never really seen the 
other face. Except perhaps in those moments when it had leaned 
forward to the crowds and the forelock had fallen and the eyes 
had bulged, and the crowd had roared and I had felt the surge in 
me and had felt that I was on the verge of the truth. But always 
the face of Cousin Willie above the Christmas tie had come again. 

But it did not come now. I saw the face. Enormous. Bigger than 
a billboard. The forelock shagged down like a mane. The big jaw. 
The heavy lips laid together like masonry. The eyes burning and 
bulging powerfully 

Funny, I had never seen it before. Not really. 

That night I telephoned the Boss, told him what had happened 
and how Anne had told me, and made my suggestion about getting 
Adam to swear out a warrant for Coffee. He said to do it. To do 
anything that would nail Adam. So I went to the hotel, where I lay 
on my bed under the electric fan until the desk called me to get up 
at about six o'clock. Then by seven I was on Adam's doorstep, with 
a single cup of java sloshing about in my insides and a fresh razor 
cut on my chin and sleep like sand under my eyelids. 

I worked it. It was a hard little job I had cut out for me. First, 
I had to enlist Adam on the side of righteousness by getting- him 
to. agree to swear out a warrant for Coffee. My method was to 
assume, of course, that he was aching for the opportunity to nail 
Coffee, and to indicate that the Boss was cheering on the glorious 
exploit. Then I had to lead him to the discovery, which had to 
be all his own, that this would involve Anne as a witness. Then 
I had to play the half-wit and imply that this had never occurred 

346 



to me before. The danger was, with a fellow like Adam, that he 
would get so set on seeing justice done that he would let Anne 
testify, hell and high water. He almost did that, but I painted a 
gory picture of the courtroom scene (but not as gory by half as it 
would have been in truth), refused to be party to the business, 
hinted that he was an unnatural brother, and wound up with a 
vague notion of another way to get Coffee for a similar attempt 
in another quarter— a vague notion of laying myself open for Coffee 
to approach me. I could put out a feeler for him, and all that. So 
Adam dropped the idea of the charge, but retained the implied 
idea that he and the Boss had teamed up to keep things clean for 
the hospital. 

Just as we were ready to walk out of the apartment, he stepped 
to the mantelpiece and picked up the stamped letters waiting there 
to be mailed. I had spotted the top envelope already, the one ad- 
dressed to the Boss. So as he turned around with the letters in his 
hand, I simply lifted that one out of his grasp, said with my best 
smile, “Hell, you haven’t got any use for this in the daylight,” and 
tore it across and put the pieces into my pocket. 

Then we went out back and got into his car. I rode with him 
all the way to his office. I would have sat with him all day to keep 
an eye on him if it had been possible. Anyway, I chatted briskly 
all the way down-town to keep his mind clear. My chatter was as 
gay and sprightly as bird song. 

So the summer moved on, swelling slowly like a great fruit, and 
everything was as it had been before. I went to my office. I went 
back to my hotel and sometimes ate a meal and sometimes did not 
and lay under the fan and read till late. I saw the same faces, Duffy, 
the Boss, Sadie Burke, all the faces I had known for a long time 
and saw so often I didn’t notice the changes in them. But I did not 
see Adam and Anne for a while. And I had not seen Lucy Stark 
for a long time. She was living out in the country now. The Boss 
would still go out to see her now and then, to keep up appearances, 
and have his picture taken among the white leghorns. Sometimes 
Tom Stark would stand there with him and, perhaps, Lucy, with 
the white leghorns in. the foreground and a wire fence behind. 
Governor Willie Stark and Family, the caption would read. 

Yes, those pictures were an asset to the Boss. Half the people in 
the state knew that the Boss had been tom-catting around for years, 
but the pictures of the family' and the white leghorns gave the vot- 
ers a nice warm glow, it made them feel solid, substantial, and vir- 
tuous, it made them think of gingerbread and nice cold buttermilk, 

S47 



and if somewhere not too far in the wings there was a flicker of a 
black-lace negligee and a whilf of musky perfume, then, “Well, you 
cain*t blame him a-taken hit, they put hit up to him/' It only 
meant that the Boss was having it both ways, and that seemed a 
mark of the chosen and superior. It was what the voter did when 
he shook loose and came up to town to the furniture dealers' con- 
vention and gave the bellhop a couple of bucks to get him a girl 
up to the room. Or if he wasn’t doing it classy, he rode into town 
with his truckload of hogs and for two bucks got the whole works 
d^'wu at a crib. But either way, classy or crib, the voter knew what 
it meant, and he wanted both Mom's gingerbread and the black- 
lace negligee and didn't hold it against the Boss for having both. 
What he would have held against the Boss was a divorce. Anne 
was right about that. It would have hurt even the Boss. That would 
have been very different, and would have robbed the voter of 
something he valued, the nice warm glow of complacency, the pic- 
ture that flattered him and his own fat or thin wife standing in 
front of the henhouse. 

Meanwhile, if the voter knew that the Boss had been tom-catting 
for years, and could name the names of half of the ladies involved, 
he didn't know about Anne Stanton. Sadie had found out, but 
that was no miracle. But as far as I could detect, nobody else knew, 
not even Duffy with his wheezing, elephantine wit and leer. Maybe 
Sugar-Boy knew, but he could be depended upon. He knew every- 
thing. The Boss didn’t mind telling anything in front of Sugar- 
Boy, or close to it— anything, that is, that he would tell. Which 
probably left a lot untold, at that. Once Congressman Randall was 
in the Boss's library with him, Sugar-Boy, and me, pacing up and 
down the floor, and the Boss was giving him play-by-play instruc- 
tions on how to conduct himself when the Milton-Broderick Bill 
was presented to Congress. The instructions were pretty frank, and 
the Congressman kept looking nervously at Sugar-Boy. The Boss 
noticed him. “God damn it,” the Boss said, “you afraid Sugar-Boy's 
finding out something? Well, you're right, he's finding out some- 
thing. Well, Sugar-Boy has found out plenty. He knows more about 
this state than you do. And I trust him a hell of a lot farther than 
I'd trust you. You're my pal, ain't you, Sugar-Boy?” 

Sugar-Boy's face darkened with the rush of pleasurable, embar- 
rassed blood and his lips began to work and the spit to fly as he 
prepared to speak. 

“Yeah, Sugar's- my pal, ain't you, Sugar-Boy?” he said, and slapped 
Sugar-Boy on the slxoulder, and then swung again toward the Con- 

MS 



gressman while Sugar-Boy finally was managing to say, “Fm— y-y-y- 
your pal— and— I— ain^t ta-ta-ta-talking— none/' 

Yes, Sugar-Boy probably knew, but he was dependable. 

And Sadie was dependable, too. She had told me, but that was 
in the flush of her first fine rage and I (I thought of this with a 
certain grim humor) was, you might say, in the family. She wouldn't 
tell anybody else. Sadie Burke didn't have any confidant, for she 
didn’t trust anybody. She didn’t ask any sympathy, for the world 
she had grown up in didn't have any. So she would keep her mouth 
shut. And she had plenty of patience. She knew he'd come back. 
Meanwhile, she could hack him into a rage, or could try to for 
it was hard to do, and she herself would get into one, and you 
would think that they would be ready to fly at each other in the 
frenzy they could build up. By that time, too, you wouldn't be 
able to tell whether it was a frenzy of love or hate that coiled and 
tangled them together. And after all the years it had been going 
on, it probably didn't matter which it was. Her eyes would blaze 
black out of her chalk-white, pocked face and her wild black hair 
would seem to lift electrically off her scalp and her hands would 
flay out in a gesture of rending and tearing. \V;hile the flood of her 
language poured over him, his head would rock massively but al- 
most imperceptibly from side to side and his eyes would follow her 
every motion, at first drowsily, then raptly, until he would heave 
himself up, the big veins in his temples pumping and his right fist 
raised. Then the raised fist would crash into the palm of the other 
hand, and he would burst out, "God damn, God damn it, Sadiel'^ 

Or for weeks there wouldn't be any shenanigans. Sadie would 
treat the Boss with an icy decorum, meeting him only and strictly 
in the course of business, standing quietly before him while he 
talked. She would stand there before him and study him out of 
the black eyes, in which the blaze was banked now. ’Well, despite all 
the shenanigans, Sadie knew how to wait. She had learned that a 
long time back. She had had to wait for everything she had ever 
got out of the world. 

So the summer, went on, and we all lived in it. It was a way to 
live, and when you have lived one way for a while you forget that 
there was ever any other way and that there may be another way 
again. Even when die change came, it didn't at first seem like a 
change but like more of the same, an extension and repetition. 

It came through Tom Stark, 

Given the elements, it was perfectly predictable. On one hand 
there was the Boss, and on the other hand there was MacMurfee, 
MacMurfee didn’t have any choice. He had to keep fighting the 

349 



Boss, for the Boss wouldn’t deal with him, and if (and it looked 
more like when than ij) the Boss ever broke MacMurfee in the 
Fourth District, Mac was a goner- So he had no choice, and he 
would use anything he could lay his hands on. 

What he laid his hands on was a fellow named Marvin Frey, 
previously unknown tc fame. Frey had a daughter named Sibyl, 
also unknown to fame, but not, Mn Frey said, unknown to Tom 
Stark. It was simple, not a new turn to the plot, not a new line in 
the script. An old home remedy. Simple. Simple and sordid. 

The outraged father, accompanied by a friend, for witness and 
protector no doubt, called on the Boss and stated his case. He got 
out, white in the face and obviously shaken, but he had the strength 
to walk. He walked across the long stretch of carpet hrom the Boss’s 
door to die door to the corridor, getting inadequate support from 
the friend, whose own legs seemed to have lost some of their stiffen- 
ing, and went out. 

Then the buzzer on my desk went wild, the little red light which 
meant headquarters flashed, and when I switched on the voice box, 
the Boss’s voice said, "Jack, get the hell in here.” When I got the 
hell in there, he succincdy outlined the case to me, and gave me 
two assignments: first, get hold of Tom Stark, and second, find all 
there was about Marvin Frey 

It took all day and the efforts of half of the Highway Patrol to 
locate Tom Stark, who was, it developed, at a fishing lodge on 
Bigger’s Bay with several cronies and some girls and a lot of wet 
glasses and dry fishing tackle. It was near six o’clock before they 
fetched him in. I was out in the reception room when he came in. 
"Hi, Jack,” he said, "what’s eating on him now?” And he cocked 
his head toward the Boss’s door. 

"He’ll tell you,” 1 said, and watched him head toward the door, 
a wonderfully set-up fellow in dirty white duck trousers, sandals, 
and a pale-blue short-sleeved silky sport shirt that stuck to the 
damp pectoral muscles and almost popped over the brown biceps. 
His head, with a white gob cap stuck on it, was thrust forward 
just a little bit, and had the slightest roll when he walked, and his 
arms hung slightly crooked with the elbows a little out. Watching 
the arms hanging that way, you got the impression that they were 
like weapons just loosened and riding easy and ready in the scab- 
bards. He didn’t knock, but walked straight into the Boss’s office. 
I retreated to my own office and waited for the dust to settle. What- 
ever it was, Tom was not going to stand and take it, not even from 
the Boss. 

A half hour later Tom came out, slamming the door so that the 

350 



heavy gold-framed paintings of the former governors hung around 
the paneled walls of the big reception room shivered like autumn 
leaves in a blast. He stalked across the room, not even giving a 
look in the direction of my open door, and went out. At “first, he 
had, the Boss told me later, denied everything. Then he had ad- 
mitted everything, looking the Boss in the eye, with a what-the- 
heli’s-it-to-you expression. The Boss was fit to'be<^tied when I saw 
him a few minutes after Tom’s departure. He had only one small 
comfort— that from the legal point of view, Tom had been just one 
of a platoon of Sibyl’s friends, according to Tom himself. But, 
aside from the legal point of view, that fact just made the Boss 
madder, Tom’s being one of a platoon. It would be convenient 
in any discussion of the paternity of Sibyl’s alleged child, but it 
seemed to hurt the Boss’s pride. 

I had found Tom and brought him in as one of my assignments. 
The second one took a little longer. Finding out about Marvin 
Frey. There wasn’t much to find out, it appeared. He was a barber 
in the only hotel in a fair-sized town, Duboisville, over in the 
Fourth District. He was a sporting barber, with knife-edged creases 
in his striped pants, ointment on his thinning hair, hands like in- 
flated white rubber gloves, a Racing Form in his hip pocket, the 
shapeless soft nose with the broken veins like tiny purple vines^ 
and breath sweetly flavored with Sen-Sen and red-eye. He was a 
widower, living with his two daughters. You don’t have to find out 
much about a fellow like that. You know it all already. Sure, he 
has an immortal soul which is individual and precious in God's 
eye, and he is that unique agglomeration of atomic energy known 
as Marvin Frey, but you know all about him. You know his jokes, 
you know the insinuative hee-hee through his nose with which he 
prefaces them, you know how the gray tongue licks luxuriously 
over his lips at the conclusion, you know how he fawns and drools 
over the inert mass with the face covered with steaming towels 
which happens to be the local banker or the local gambling-house 
proprietor or the local congressman, you know how he kids the 
hotel chippies and tries to talk them out of something, you know 
how he gets in debt because of his bad hunches on the horses and 
bad luck with the dice, you know how he wakes up in the morning 
and sits on the edge of the bed with his bare feet on the cold 
floor and a taste like brass on the back of his tongue and experi- 
ences his nameless despair. You know that, with the combination 
of poverty, fear, and vanity, he is perfectly designed to be robbed 
of his last pride and last shame and be used by MacMurfee. Or 
by somebody else. 


351 



But it happened to be MacMurfee. This angle had not appeared 
in Marvin's first interview. It appeared a few days later. One of 
MacMurfee's boys called on the Boss, said MacMurfee had heard 
how a fellow named Frey had a daughter named Sibyl who had 
something on Tom Stark, but MacMurfee had always liked foot- 
ball and sure liked the way Tom carried the ball, and didn’t want 
to see the boy get mixed up in anything unpleasant. Frey, the fel- 
low said, was not in any frame of mind to be reasonable. He was 
going to make Tom marry the daughter. (The Boss’s face must have 
been something to see at that point.) But Frey lived over in Mac- 
Murfee’s district, and MacMurfee knew him a little, and maybe 
MacMurfee could put some reasonableness into Frey’s head. It 
would cost something, of course, to do it that way, but there 
wouldn’t be any publicity, and Tom would still be a bachelor. 

What would it cost? Well, some money for Sibyl. Folding money. 

But this meant that MacMurfee was simply acting out of a deep 
heart and generous nature. 

What would it cost? Well, MacMurfee was thinking he might 
run for Senator. 

So that was it. 

But the Boss, as Anne Stanton had told me, was figuring on going 
to the Senate himself. He had it in the sack. He had the state in a 
sack. Except for MacMurfee. MacMurfee and Marvin Frey. But 
still, he wasn’t in any mood to dicker with MacMurfee. He didn’t 
dicker, but he stalled. 

There was one reason he could take the chance and stall. If 
Marvin and MacMurfee had had it sewed up absolutely tight, and 
could have ruined the Boss, they would have done it without fur- 
ther ado. They wouldn’t have bothered to dicker. They had some 
cards, all right, but it wasn’t necessarily a straight flush, and they 
had lo take their gamble, too. They had to wait, while the Boss 
did his thinking, and hope that he wouldn’t think up anything 
unpleasant in his turn. 

While the Boss did his thinking, I saw Lucy Stark. She wrote me 
a note and asked me to come to see her. I knew what she wanted. 
She wanted to talk about Tom. Obviously, she wasn’t finding out 
anything from Tom himself, or at least, what she considered to be 
the truth and the whole truth, and she wasn’t talking it over with 
the Boss for on the matter of Tom she and the Boss had never 
agreed. So she was going to ask me questions, and I was going to 
sit and sweat on the red plush upholstery in the parlor of the farm- 
house where she was living. But that had to be. Long back, I had 
made up my mind that when Lucy Stark asked me to do some- 

332 



thing I was going to do it. It was not exactly that 1 felt I owed 
Lucy Stark a debt, or had to make restitution, or do penance. At 
least, if there was a debt, it was not to Lucy Stark, and if there was 
restitution to be made it was not to be made to her. If there was 
a debt, it was, perhaps, due to me, from me. And if restitution was 
to be made, it was to be made to me, by me. And as for penance, 
there had been no crime for which I should do it. My only crime 
was being a man and living in the world of men, and you don't 
have to do special penance for that. The crime and the penance, 
in that case, coincide perfectly. They are identical. 

If you have ever been down toward the Gulf, you knew the 
kind of house. White frame, but with the glitter long gone. One 
story, a wide gallery across the front with spindly posts supporting 
the shed over it. A tin roof, with faint streaks of rust showing red 
in the channel joints. The whole thing set high on brick pillars, to 
make a cool cobweb-draped cloister underneath, screened on the 
front side by rank ligustrums and canna beds, for hens to con* 
gregate and fluff in the dust and an old shepherd dog to lie and 
pant in the hot days. It sits pretty well back from the road, in a 
lawn gone sparse and rusty in the late season. On each side of an 
anachronistic patch of concrete walk, which dies blankly at the gate 
where the earth of the highway shoulder shows raw, there are two 
round flower beds made by laying an old automobile tire on the 
ground and filling it with wood earth. There are a few zinnias in 
each, hairy like an animal, brilliant in the dazzling sun. At each 
end of the house is a live oak, not grand ones. Beyond the house, 
flanking it on each side are the chicken houses and barns, un- 
painted. But the faded-white decent house itself, sitting there in the 
middle of the late-summer afternoon, in the absolute quiet of that 
time of day and year, with the sparse lawn and tidy flower beds 
and the prideful patch of concrete walk in front, the oaks at each 
side, is like nothing so much as a respectable, middle-aged woman, 
in a clean gray gingham dress, with white stockings and black kid 
shoes, the pepper-and-salt hair coiled on her head, sitting in her 
rocker with her hands folded across her stomach to take a little 
ease, now the day's work is done and the menfolks are in the field 
and it’s not yet time to think about supper and strain the evening 
milk. 

I stepped gingerly up that patch of concrete walk, as though I 
were treading on dozens of eggs laid by all those white leghorns 
back in the chicken run. 

Lucy led me into the parlor, which was just the place I had 
known it would be, the carved black-walnut furniture upholstered 

553 



in red plush, with a few tassels still left hanging here and there, 
the Bible and the stereoscope and the neat pile of cards for the 
stereoscope on the carved black-walnut table, a flowered carpet, 
with little rag rugs laid over the places most worn, the big walnut 
and gilt frames on the wall enclosing the stern, malarial, Calvinistic 
faces whose eyes fixed you with little sympathy. The windows of the 
room were dosed, and the curtains drawn to give a shadowy, 
aqueous light in which we sat silently for a minute as though at 
a funeral. The palm of my hand laid down on the plush prickled 
drily. 

She sat there as though I hadn't come, not looking at me but 
down at a floral figure in the carpet. The abundant dark-brown 
hair which, when I first met Lucy out at the Stark place, had been 
massacred off at the neck and marcelled by the beauty operator of 
Mason City, had long since grown back to its proper length. The 
auburn luster was still in it, maybe, but I couldn’t see it in the 
dim light of the parlor. I had, however, noticed the few touches 
of gray, when I met her at the door. She sat across from me on the 
red plush seat of a stiff, carved, walnut chair, with her still good 
ankles crossed in front of her, and her waist, not so little now, still 
straight, and her bosom full but not shapeless under the blue sum- 
mer cloth. The soft soothing contours of her face weren’t girlish 
any more, as they had been on that first evening back in Old 
Man Stark’s house, for now there was a hint of weight, of the 
infinitesimal downward drag, in the flesh, the early curse and 
certain end of those soft, soothing faces which, especially when 
very young, appeal to all our natural goodness and make us think 
of the sanctity of motherhood. Yes, that is the kind of face you 
would put on the United States Madonna if you were going to 
paint her. But you aren’t, and meanwhile it is the kind of face they 
try to put on advertisements of ready-mix cake flour and patented 
diapers and whole-wheat bread— good, honest, wholesome, trusting, 
courageous, tender, and with the glow of youth. The glow of youth 
wasn’t on the particular face any more, but when Lucy Stark 
lifted her head to speak, I saw that the large, deep-brown eyes 
hadn’t changed much. Time and trouble had shaded and deepened 
them some, but that was all. 

She said, ’’It's about Tom.” 

’’Yes,” I said. 

She said, know something is wrong.’^ 

I nodded. 

She said, “Tell me.” 

I inhaled the dry air and the faint closed-parlor odor of fumi* 

354 



ture polish, which is the odor of decency and care and modest 
hopes, and squirmed on my seat while the red plush prickled my 
pressed-down palm like a nettle. 

She said, “Jack, tell me the truth. Tve got to know the truth, 
Jack. You will tell me the truth. You’ve always been a good friend. 
You were a good friend to Willie and me— back yonder— back yon 
der— when— ” 

Her voice trailed off. 

So I told her the truth. About Marvin Frey’s visit. 

Her hands twisted in her lap while I spoke, and then clenched 
and lay still. Then she said, “There’s just one thing for him to do.” 

“There might be a— a settlement— you know, a— “ 

But she broke in. “There’s just one right thing,” she said. 

I waited. 

“He’ll— he’ll marry her,” she said, and held her head up very 
straight. 

I squirmed a little, then said, “Well— well, you see— it looks like 
—like there might have been— some others— other friends of Sibyl- 
others who—” 

“Oh, God,” she breathed so softly I could scarcely tell it was 
more than a breath she uttered, and I saw the hands clench and 
unclench on her lap again. 

“And,” I went on, now I was in it, “there’s another angle to it, 
too. There’s some politics mixed up, too. You see— MacMurfee 
wants—” 

“Oh, God,” she breathed again, and rose abruptly from the chair, 
and pressed her clenched hands together in front of her bosom. 
“Oh, God, politics,” she whispered, and took a distracted step or 
two away from me, and said again, “Politics.” Then she swung to- 
ward me, and said, out loud now, “Oh, God, in ‘this too.” 

“Yes,” I nodded, “like most things.” 

She went to one of the windows, where she stood with her back 
to me and the parlor and peered through a crack between the cur- 
tains out into the hot, sun-dazzled world outside, where everything 
happened. 

After a minute she said, “Go on, tell me what you were going 
to tell.” 

So not even looking at her as she peered out the crack into the 
world but looking at the empty chair where she had been sitting, 
I told her about the MacMurfee proposition and how things were. 

My voice stopped. Then there was another minute of silence. 
Then, I heard her voice back over by the window, “It had to be 
this way, I guess. I have tried to do right but it had to be this way, 

355 



I guess. Oh, Jack—” I heard the rustle as she turned from the win* 
dow, and swung my head toward her, as she said— “Oh, Jack, I tried 
to do right. I loved my boy and tried to raise him right. I loved 
my husband and tried to do my duty. And they love me. I think 
they love me. After everything. I have to think that, Jack. I have 
to.” 

I sat there and sweated on the red plush, while the large, deep- 
brown eyes fixed on me in a mixture of appeal and afiarmation. 

Then she said, very quietly now, have to think that. And think 
that it will be all right in the end.” 

“Listen,” I said, “the Boss stalled them off, hell think of some- 
thing, it’ll be all right.” 

“Oh, 1 didn’t mean that, I meant—” but she stopped. 

But I knew what she had meant, even as her voice, lower and 
steadier now, and at the same time more resigned, resumed to say, 
“Yes, he’ll think of something. It will be all right.” 

There wasn’t any use to hang round longer. I got up, rescued 
my old Panama off the carved walnut table, where the Bible and 
stereoscope were, walked across to Lucy, put out my hand to her, 
and said, “It’ll be all right.” 

She looked at my hand as though she didn’t know why it was 
there. Then she looked at me. “It’s just a baby,” she almost whis- 
pered. “It’s just a little baby. It’s a little baby in the dark. It’s not 
even born yet, and it doesn’t know about what’s happened. About 
money and politics and somebody wanting to be a senator. It 
doesn’t know about anything— about how it came to be— about what 
that girl did— or why— or why the father— why he—” She stopped, 
and the large brown eyes kept looking at me with appeal and what 
might have been accusation. Then she said, “Oh, Jack, it’s a little 
baby, and nothing’s its fault.” 

I almost burst out that it wasn’t my fault, either, but I didn’t. 

Then she added, “It may be my grandbaby. It may be my boy’s 
baby.” 

Then, after a moment, “I would love it.” 

Her hands, which had been clenched into fists and pressed to- 
gether at the level of her breast, opened slowly at the words, and 
reached out, supine and slightly cupped, but with the wrists still 
against her own body as though expectation were humble or hope- 
less. 

She noticed me looking down at the hands, then quickly let them 
drop. 

“Good-bye,” I said, and moved toward the door. 

356 



“Thank you, Jack,” she said, but didn't follow me. Which suited 
me down to the ground, for I was really on my way out. 

I walked out into the dazzling world and down the prideful patch 
of concrete and got into my car and headed back to town, where, 
no doubt, I belonged. 

The Boss did think up something. 

First, he thought that it might be a good idea to get in touch 
with Marvin Frey, directly and not through MacMurfee, to feel 
out the situation there. But MacMurfee was too smart for that. 
He didn't trust Frey or the Boss, either, and Marvin had been 
whisked off, nobody knew where exactly. But, as it developed later, 
Marvin and Sibyl had been carried off into Arkansas, which was 
probably the last place they wanted to be, on a farm up in Ar- 
kansas, where the only horses were mules and the brightest light 
came from a patented gasoline pressure lamp on the parlor table 
and there weren’t any fast cars and people went to bed to sleep 
at eight-thirty and got up at dawn. Of course, they had some com- 
pany along, and could play three-handed poker and rummy, for 
MacMurfee had sent along one of his boys, who, I was to learn, 
kept the car keys in his pants pocket by day and under his pillow 
by night, and practically stood outside the door of the backhouse, 
leaning on the trellis of honeysuckle, with a derby on the side of 
his head, when one of them went there, just to be sure there weren’t 
any shenanigans like cutting across the back lot in the direction of 
the railroad ten miles off. He was also tlie one who thumbed through 
the mail first, for Marvin and Sibyl weren't supposed to be getting 
any mail. Nobody was supposed to know where they were. And we 
didn’t find out. Not until a long time after. 

Second, the Boss thought about Judge Irwin. If MacMurfee 
would listen to sense at all, he would listen to sense from Judge 
Irwin. He owed Irwin a lot, and there weren’t so many legs left to 
MacMurfee’s stool he could afford to lose one. So, the Boss thought, 
there was Judge Irwin. 

He called me in and said, “I told you to dig on Irwin. What did 
you get?” 

“I got something,” I said. 

“What?” 

“Boss,”, I said, “I’m going to give Irwin a break. If he can prove 
to me it isn’t true, I won’t spill it.” 

“God damn it,” he began, “I told you—” 

“I’m giving Irwin a break,” I said. “I promised two people I 
would do it.” 


357 



“Who?'' 

“Well, I promised myself, for one. The other doesn't matter." 

“You promised yourself, huh?" He looked hard at me. 

“Yeah, I did." 

“O.K.," he said. “Do it your way. If it’ll stick, you know what I 
want." He surveyed me glumly, then added, “And it better stick." 

“Boss,” I said, “I’m afraid it will.” 

“Afraid?” he said. 

“Yeah." 

“Who you working for? Him or me?” 

“Well, I'm not framing Judge Irwin.” 

He kept on studying me. “Boy,” he said then, “I’m not asking 
yoT^ to frame him. I never asked you to frame anybody. Did I?” 

“No.” 

"I never did ask you to frame anybody. And you know why?” 

“No.” 

“Because it ain't ever necessary. You don’t ever have to frame 
anybody, because the u*uth is always sufficient.” 

“You sure take a high view of human nature.” I said. 

“Boy,” he said, “I went to a Presbyterian Sunday school back in 
the days when they still had some theology, and that much of it 
stuck. And—” he grinned suddenly— “I have found it very valuable.” 

So our conversation ended, and I got into my car and headed for 
Burden’s Landing. 

The next morning, as soon as I had my breakfast, which I ate 
alone, for the Young Executive had left for town and my mother 
wouldn’t get up till pushing noon, I strolled down the beach. It 
was a fine morning, but riot as hot as usual. The beach was deserted 
at that hour, except for some kids playing in the bright shallows 
a quarter of a mile off, thin-legged little kids like sandpipers. I 
wandered on down past them, and as I passed they paused an 
instant in their leaping and splashing and gyration to favor me 
with an indifferent stare from their brown, water-slick* faces. But 
it was only for an instant, for I obviously belonged to that dull 
and purblind race which wears shoes and trousers, and you do not 
leap up and down in the bright shallows in shoes and trousers. 
You do not even walk on the sand and get sand in your shoes if 
you can avoid it. But at least I was walking on the sand and getting 
it liberally into my shoes. I wasn’t too old for that. I reflected on 
that with satisfaction, and moved on toward the cluster of pines 
and the big oak and the mimosas and myrtles, just back from the 
'jeach, where the tennis courts were. There were some benches there 

358 



in the shade, and I had the unread morning paper in my hand. 
After I had read the paper, I would begin to think about what 
would happen later on in the day. But I wasn’t even thinking about 
it yet. 

I found the bench near the vacant court and lighted my cigarette 
and began to read. I read the front page, every word, with the 
mechanical devotion of a padre working over the missal, and didn’t 
even think of all the news which I knew and which wasn’t on the 
front page. I was well into the third page, when I heard voices and 
looked up to see the pair of players, a boy and girl, approaching 
on the other side of the courts. After an idle glance at me, they 
took possession of the farther court, and began to beat the little 
white ball back and forth, just idly to loosen up their muscles. 

You could tell by the first exchange that they knew what they 
were about. And you could tell that their muscles didn’t need 
much loosening up. He was of medium height, perhaps a shade 
under, with a deep chest and big arms and nothing extra around 
the waist. His red hair had a crew cut, crinkly red hair showed on 
his chest above the underwear vest he was wearing instead of a 
shirt, and his skin was an even baby-pink except for the big 
blotches of brown freckles on his face and shoulders. In the middle 
of the freckles his face was all white-toothed grin and the glint of 
blue eyes. She was a brown lively girl, short brown hair that 
snapped when she pirouetted, and brown arms and shoulders above 
the white halter tied over her breasts, and brown legs Bashing above 
white shoes and socks, and a little brown flat tummy between the 
white shorts and the white halter. They were both pretty young. 

They began the game right quick, and I watched them over my 
newspaper. Maybe the red-headed fellow wasn’t trying his hardest, 
but she was handing them back to him well enough and could 
make him move around the court. She was even taking a game 
from him nov; and then. She was a pretty thing to watch, so light 
and springy and serious-faced and flashy-legged. But not as pretty 
as Anne Stanton had been, I decided. I even meditated on the 
superior beauty of a white skirt which could flow and whip with 
the player’s motion as compared to shorts. But shorts were good. 
They were good on the lively brown girl. I had to admit that. 

And I had to admit, as I watched, that I had a knot in my 
stomach. Because I wasn’t out there on the court. With Anne Stan- 
ton. It was a terrific and fundamental injustice that I wasn’t out 
there. What was that red-faced, crop-headed fellow doing there? 
What was that girl doing there? I suddenly didn’t like them. I felt 
like going over there and stopping the game and saying, “You 

359 



think you’ll be here playing tennis forever, don’t you? Well, you 
won't.” 

“Why, no,” the girl would say, “not forever.” 

“Hell, no,” the fellow would say, “we’re going swimming this 
afternoon, then tonight we’re—” 

“You don’t get it,” I would say. “Sure, I know you’re going swim* 
ming, and you’re going out somewhere tonight and you’ll stop the 
car on the way home. But you think you’ll be here this way for^ 
ever.” 

“Hell, no,” he would say, “I’m going back to college next week.” 

“I’m going off to school,” she would say, “but Thanksgiving I’ll 
see Al, won’t I, Al— and you’ll take me to the big game— won’t you, 
Al?” 

They w^ouldn't get it worth a damn. There was no use in giving 
them the benefit of my wisdom. Not even of the great big piece of 
wisdom which I had learned on my trip to California. They didn’t 
know the wisdom of the Great Twitdi, but they would have to 
find it out for themselves, for there was no use to tell them. They 
might listen politely, but they wouldn’t believe a word of* it. And 
watching the brown girl dance and flash over there against the 
myrtles and the brilliant sea, I wasn’t so sure for the moment that I 
believed it myself. 

But I did believe it, of course, for I had had my trip to Cali* 
fornia. 

I didn’t see out the first set. The score was five to two when I 
left, but it seemed that she might make it five-three, for the crop- 
headed fellow was feeding them to her, not too obviously, and grin- 
ning out of the freckles when she'd whang them back. 

I went to the house, changed, and took a swim. I idled out a long 
way, and floated around in the bay, which is a corner ot the Gulf 
of Mexico, which is a corner of the great,' salt, unplumbed waten 
of the world, and got back in time for lunch. 

My mother had lunch with me. She kept giving me a chance to 
tell her why I had come down, but I just skirted round the subject 
till we got to the dessert. Then I asked her if Judge Irwin was at 
the Landing. I hadn’t asked that yet. I could have found out the 
night before. But I hadn’t asked. I had postponed finding out. 

He was at the Landing, all right. 

My mother and I went out on the side gallery and had coffee 
and cigarettes. After a while I went upstairs to lie down for a spell 
and digest. I lay up there in my old room for an hour or so. Then 
I figured I had better get on with my work. I eased downstairs and 
.started out the front door. 


360 



But my mother was in the living room and called to me. It was 
a strange place for her to be at that time of day, but there she was. 
She had waited to waylay me, I decided. I stepped inside and 
leaned against the wall, waiting for her to speak. 

“You’re going down to the Judge’s?” she asked. 

I said, yes, I was. 

She was holding up her right hand, the back to her, the fingers 
spread, to inspect the polish on her red nails. Then with her brow 
ruffled as though the inspection were not satisfactory, she asked, 
“Oh, politics, I suppose?” 

“Sort of,” I said. 

“Why don’t you go later on?” she asked. “He hates to be bothered 
this time of day.” 

“There isn’t any time, day or night, when he wouldn’t hate to 
hear what I’m going to tell him.” 

She looked sharply at me, her hand with the spread fingers for- 
gotten in the air. 

Then she said, “He’s not very well. Why do you have to bother 
him? He isn’t at all well now.” 

“I can’t help that,” I said, feeling the stubbornness grow inside 
me. 

“He’s not well.” 

“I can’t help it.” 

“You at least might wait till later.’^ 

“No, I’m not waiting,” I said. I felt that I couldn’t wait. I had 
to go on and get it done. The obstacle, the resistance, had confirmed 
me in that. I had to know. Quick. 

“I wish you wouldn’t,” she said, and lowered the hand which she 
had held up, forgotten, in the air the time we had been talking. 

“I can’t help it.” 

“I wish you wouldn’t get mixed up in— in things,” she com- 
plained. 

“I’m not the one mixed up in this something.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“I’ll know when I’ve put it up to Irwin,” I told her, and Went 
out of the room, and the house, and walked up the Row toward 
the Irwin place. At least, I would walk, hot as it was, and that 
would give the old bugger a little extra time before I popped the 
question to him. He deserved the extra few minutes, I reckoned; 

The old bugger was upstairs lying down when I got there. 

That was what the black boy in the white coat said. “The Jedge, 
he upstairs layen on the baid, he resten,” he said, and seemed to 
think that that settled something. 

361 



"All right,” I said, "111 wait till he comes down.” And without 
invitation I drew open the screen door, and entered into the 
shadowy gracious coolness of the hall, like the perfect depth of 
time, where the mirrors and the great hurricane glasses glittered 
like ice, and my image was caught as noiselessly as velvet or recoh 
lection in all the reflecting surfaces. 

"The Jedge, he—” the black boy began again to protest. 

I walked right past him saying, "I’U sit in the library. Till he 
comes down.” 

So I walked past the eyes of which the whites were like peeled 
hard-boiled eggs and past the sad big mouth which didn't know 
what to say now and just hung open to show the pink, and walked 
on back to the library, and entered into the deep, shuttered shadow 
which depended from the high ceiling and the walls of books laid 
close like stone and which lay on the deepred Turkey carpet like a 
great dog asleep and scarcely breathing. I sat down in one of the 
big leather chairs, dropped by the chair the big manila envelope 
I had brought, and lay back. I got the notion that all the books 
were staring meaninglessly down at me like sculptured stone closed 
eyes, in a gallery. I noticed, as before, that all the old calf-bound 
law books there gave the room the faint odor of cheese. 

After a while, there was some movement upstairs, then the tinkle 
of a bell in the back of the house. I guessed that the Judge had 
rung for the boy. A moment later I heard the boy's soft feet padding 
in the hall, and guessed that he was headed upstairs. 

In about ten minutes the Judge came down. His firm tread came 
toward the library door. He paused an instant at the threshold, 
a tall head above a black bowtie and white coat, as though to 
adjust his eyes to the shadow, then moved toward me with his hand 
out. “Hello, Jack,” he was saying, in the voice I had always known, 
"damned glad you came by. I didn't know you were at the Land- 
ing. Just get in?” 

"Last night,” I said briefly, and rose to take the hand. 

He gave me a firm grasp, then waved me back into the chair. 
"Damned glad you came by,” he repeated, and smiled out of the 
high, tired, rust-colored old hawk's head up there in the shadow. 
"How long you been in the house? Why didn't you make that rascal 
rout me out instead of letting me sleep all afternoon? It's a long 
time since I've seen you. Jack.” 

"Yes,” I agreed, "it is.” 

It had been a long time. The last time had been in the middle 
of the night. With the Boss. And in the silence after my remark 
X knew that he was remembering, too. He was remembering, but 

362 



after he had said it. Then I knew that he had put the memory 
away. He was denying the memory. '‘Well, it is a long time,*' he 
said as he settled himself, as though he had remembered nothing, 
*‘but don’t let it be as long next time. Aren’t you ever coming to 
see the old fellow? We old ones like a little attention.” 

He smiled, and there wasn’t anything I could say into the face 
of that smile. 

“Damn it,” he said, popping up out of his chair without any 
audible creaking of joints, “look at me forgetting hospitality. I bet 
you are dry as Andy Jackson’s powder. Little early in the day per- 
haps for the real thing, but a touch of gin and tonic never hurt 
anybody. Not you and me, anyway. We’re indestructible, aren’t we, 
you and me?” 

He was halfway across to the bellpull before I managed to say 
anything. 

“No, thanks,” I said. 

He looked down at me, the faintest shade of disappointment on 
his face. Then the smile came back, a good, honest, dog-toothed, 
manly smile, and he said, “Aw, come on, and have a little one. 
This is a celebration. I want to celebrate your coming to see mel” 

He got in another step toward the bellpull before I said, “No, 
thanks.” 

For a moment he stood there looking down at me again, with his 
arm lifted for the pull. Then he let his arm drop and turned again 
toward his own chair, with the slightest slackening visible— or I 
imagined it— in his frame. “Well,” he said offering something which 
wasn’t quite the smile, “I’m not going to drink by myself. I’ll get 
my stimulation out of your conversation. What’s on your mind?” 

“Nothing much,” I said. 

I looked at him over there in the shadow and saw that some- 
thing was keeping the old shoulders straight and the old head up. 
I wondered what it was. I wondered if what I had dug up were 
true. I looked across at him, and didn’t want it to be true. With 
all my heart, I discovered, I didn’t want it to be true. And I had 
the sudden thought that I might have his drink of gin and tonic, 
and talk with him and never tell him, and go back to town and 
tell the Boss that I was convinced it was not true. The Boss would 
have to take that. He would pitch and roar, but he would know 
it was my show. Besides by that time I would have destroyed the 
stuff from Miss Littlepaugh. I could do that. 

But I had to know. Even as the thought of going away without 
knowing came through my head, I knew that I had to know the 
truth. For the truth is a terrible thing. You dabble your foot in it 

363 



and it is nothing. But you walk a little farther and you feel it pull 
you like an undertow or a whirlpool. First there is the slow pull so 
steady and gradual you scarcely notice it, then the acceleration, 
then the dizzy whirl and plunge to blackness. For there is a black- 
ness of truth, too. They say it is a terrible thing to fall into the 
Grace of God. I am prepared to believe that. 

So I looked across at Judge Irwin, and liked him suddenly in a 
way I hadn't liked him in years, his old shoulders were so straight 
and the dog-toothed smile so true. But I knew I had to know. 

So, as he studied me— for my face must have been something then 
to invite a reading— I met his gaze. 

“I said there wasn’t much," I said. ‘'But there is something." 

“Out with it," he said. 

“Judge," I began, “you know who I work for." 

“I know. Jack," he said, “but let’s just sit here and forget it. 
I can’t say I approve of Stark, but I’m not like most of our friends 
down the Row. I can respect a man, and he’s a man. I was almost 
for him at one time. He was breaking the windowpanes out and 
letting in a little fresh air. But—" he shook his head sadly, and 
smiled— “I began to worry about him knocking down the house, 
too. And some of his methods. So—’’ He didn’t finish the sentence, 
but gave his shoulders the slightest shrug. 

“So," I finished it for him, “you threw in with MacMurfee.” 

“Jack," he said, “politics is always a matter of choices, and a man 
doesn’t set up the choices himself. And there is always a price to 
make a choice. You know that. You’ve made a choice, and you 
know how much it cost you. There is always a price." 

“Yes, but-" 

“Jack, I'm not criticizing you," he said. /‘I trust you. Time will 
show which of us is wrong. And meanwhile. Jack, let’s don’t let it 
come between. If I lost my temper that night, I apologize. From 
my heart. It has cost me some pain." 

‘Tou say you don’t like Stark’s methods," I said. “Well, I’ll teD 
you something about MacMurfee’s methods. Listen, here is what, 
MacMurfee is up to—” And I lurched and ground on like a run- 
away streetcar charging downhill and the brakes busted. I told him 
what MacMurfee was up to. 

He sat and took it. 

Then I asked him, “Is that pretty?" 

“No," he said, and shook his head. 

“It is not pretty,” I said. “And you can stop it." 

“Me?" he demanded. 

"MacMurfee will listen to you. He’s got to listen to you, for you 

364 



are one of the few friends he*s got left, and he knows the Bosses 
breath is hot on his neck. If he really had anything of more than 
nuisance value, he would go on and try to bust the Boss and not 
haggle. But he knows he hasn’t got anything. And I’ll tell you that 
if it comes to a pinch the Boss will fight in the courts. This Sibyl 
Frey is a homemade tart, and we can damned well prove it. We’ll 
have an entire football squad in there, plus a track team, and all 
the truckers who run Highway 69 past her pappy’s house. If you 
talk MacMurfee into sense, there might be some chance of saving 
his shirt when the time comes. But mind you, I can’t promise a 
thing. Not now.” 

There was nothing but shadow and silence and the faint odor 
like old cheese for a spell, while what I had just said all went 
through the hopper inside that handsome old head. Then he shook 
the head slowly. *‘No,” he said. 

*Xook here,” I said, “there’ll be something in it for Sibyl, the 
tart We can take care of that side of it, unless she’s got ideas of 
grandeur. She’ll have to sign a little statement, of course. And I 
won’t conceal from you that our side will have a few affidavits from 
her other boy-friends salted away just in case she ever gets gay 
again. If you think Sibyl isn’t getting a square deal, I can reassure 
you on that point.” 

“It isn’t that,” he said. 

“Judge,” I said, and caught the tone of pleading in my own 
voice, “what the hell is it?” 

“It’s MacMurfee’s affair. He may be making a mistake. I think 
he is. But it is his affair. It is the sort of thing I am not mixing in.” 

“Judge,” I begged, “you think it over. Take a little time to think 
it over.” 

He shook his head. 

I got up. “I’ve got to run,” I said. “You think it over. I’ll be back 
tomorrow and we can talk about it then. Give me your answer 
then.” 

He put the yellow agates on me and shook his head again, “Come 
to see me tomorrow. Jack. Tomorrow and every other day. But I’m 
giving you my answer now.” 

“I’m asking you, Judge, as a favor to me. Wait till tomorrow to 
make up your mind.” 

“You talk like I didn’t know my own mind. Jack. That’s about 
the only thing I’ve learned out of my three score and ten. That I 
know when I know my own mind. But you come back tomorrow, 
anyway. And we "won’t talk politics.” He made a sudden gesture 

365 



as though sweeping off the top of a table with his arm. “Damn 
politics anyway 1” he exclaimed humorously. 

I looked at him, and even with the wry, humorous expression on 
his face and the arm flung out at the end of its gesture, knew that 
this was it. It wasn’t the dabble of the foot in the water, or even 
the steady deep pull of the undertow or the peripheral drag of the 
whirlpool. It was the heady race and plunge of the vortex. I ought 
to have known it would be this way. 

Looking at him, I said, almost whispering, “I asked you. Judge. 
I near begged you. Judge.” 

A mild question came on his face. 

*1 tried,” I said. “I begged you.” 

“What?” he demanded. 

“Did you ev^r hear,” I asked, my voice still not much more than 
a whisper, “of a man named Littlepaugh?” 

“Littlepaugh?” he queried, and his brow wrinkled in the effort 
of memory. 

“Mortimer L. Littlepaugh,” I said, “don’t you remember?” 

The flesh of the forehead drew more positively together to make 
the deep vertical mark li& a cranky exclamation point between the 
heavy, rust-colored eyebrows. “No,” he said, and shook his head, 
“I don’t remember.” 

And he didn’t I was sure he didn’t. He didn’t even remember 
Mortimer L. Littlepaugh. 

“Well,” I questioned, “do you remember the American Electric 
Power Company?” 

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I? I was their counsel for ten years.” 
There wasn’t a flicker. 

“Do you remember how you got the job?” 

“Let me see—” he began, and I knew that he didn’t for the mo- 
ment remember, that he was in truth reaching back into the past, 
trying to remember. Then, straightening himself, he said, “Yes, of 
course, I remember. It was through a Mr. Satterfield.” 

But there had been the flicker. The barb had found meat, and 
I knew it. 

I waited a long minute, looking at him, and he looked straight 
back at me, viery straight in his chair. 

“Judge,” I asked softly, “you won’t change your mind? About 
MacMurfee?” 

“I told you,” he said. 

Then I could hear his breathing, and I wanted more than any- 
thing to know what was in his head, why he was sitting there 
straight and looking at me, while the barb bled into him. 

366 



I stepped to the chair which I had occupied and leaned down 
to pick up the manila envelope on the floor beside it. Then I 
moved to his chair, and laid the envelope in his lap. 

He looked at the envelope, without touching it. Then he looked 
up at me, a hard straight look out of the yellow agates, with no 
question in them. Then, without saying a word, he opened the 
envelope and read the papers there. The light was bad, but he did 
not lean forward. He held the papers, one by one, up to his face. 
He read them very deliberately. Then he laid the last, deliberately, 
on his lap. 

“Littlepaugh,*' he said musingly, and waited. “Tou know,” he 
said marveling, ‘‘you know, I didn’t even remember his name. I 
swear, I didn’t even remember his name.” 

He waited again. 

“Don’t you think it remarkable,” he asked, “that I didn’t even 
remember his name?” 

“Maybe so,” I said. 

“You know,” he said, still marveling, “for weeks— for months 
sometimes— I don’t even remember any of—” he touched the papers 
lightly with his strong, swollen right forefinger— “of this.” 

He waited, drawn into himself. 

Then he said, “You know, sometimes— for a long time at a stretch 
-it’s like it hadn’t happened. Not to me. Maybe to somebody else, 
but not to me. Then I remember, and when I first remember I say. 
No, it could not have happened to me.” 

Then he looked up at me, straight in the eye. “But it did,” he 
said. 

“Yes,” I said, “it did.” 

“Yes,” he nodded, “but it is difficult for me to believe.” 

“It is for me, too,” I said. 

“Thanks for that much. Jack,” he said, and smiled crookedly. 

“I guess you know the next move,” I said. 

“I guess so. Your employer is trying to put pressure on me. To 
blackmail me.” 

"'Pressure is a prettier word,” I averred. 

“I don’t care much about pretty words any more. You live with 
words a long time. Then all at once you are old, and there are the 
things and the words don’t matter any more.” 

I shrugged my shoulders. “Suit yourself,” I replied, “but you get 
the idea.” 

“Don’t you know— your employer ought to know, since he claims 
to be a lawyer, that this stuff,” he tapped the papers again with 
the forefinger, “wouldn’t stick? Not for one minute. In a court of 

367 



law. Why, it happened almost twenty-five years ago. And you 
wouldn’t get any testimony, anyway. Except from this Littlepaugh 
woman. Which would be worthless. Everybody is dead.” 

'‘Except you. Judge,” I said. 

"It wouldn't stick in court.” 

"But you don't live in a court. You aren’t dead, and you live in 
the world and people think you are a certain kind of man. You 
aren’t the kind of man who could bear for them to think dijSEerent, 
Judge.” 

"They couldn’t think it I” he burst out, leaning forward. "By 
God, they haven’t any right to think it. I've done right, I’ve done 
my duty, I've—” 

I took my gaze from his face and directed it to the papers on his 
lap. He saw me do that, and looked down; too. The words stopped, 
and his fingers touched the papers, tentatively as though to verify 
their reality. Quite slowly, he raised his eyes back to me. "You’re 
right,” he said. "I did this, too.” 

"Yes,” I said, "you did.” 

"Does Stark know it?” 

I tried to make out what was behind that question, but I couldn’t 
read him. 

"No, he doesn’t,” I replied. "I told him I wouldn’t tell him till 
I’d seen you. I had to be sure, you see. Judge.” 

"You have a tender sensibility,” he said. '"For a blackmailer.” 

"We won’t start calling names. All I’ll say is that you’re trying 
to protect a blackmailer.” 

"No, Jack,” he said quietly, "I’m not trying to protect Mac- 
Murfee. Maybe—” he hesitated— "I’m trying to protect myself.” 

"You know how to do it, then. And I'll never tell Stark.” 

"Maybe you’ll never tell him, anyway.” 

He said that even more quietly, and for the instant I thought he 
might be ready to reach for a weapon— the desk was near him— or 
ready to spring at me. He might be old but he would still b#; a 
customer. 

He must have guessed the thought, for he shook his head, smiled, 
and said, "No, don’t worry. You needn’t be afraid.” 

"Look here—” I began angrily. 

"I wouldn’t hurt you,” he said. Then, reflectively, added, "But 
1 could stop you.” 

“By stopping MacMurfee,” I said. 

"A lot easier than that.” 

"How?” 

"A lot easier than that,” he repeated. 

B68 



‘‘How?" 

“I could just—” he began, “I could just say to you— I could just 
tell you something—” He stopped, then suddenly rose to his feet, 
spilling the papers off his knees. “But I won’t,” he said cheerfully, 
and smiled directly at me. 

“Won’t tell me what?” 

“Forget it,” he said, still smiling, and waved his hand in a gay 
dismissal of the subject. 

I stood there irresolutely for a moment. Things were not making 
sense. He was not supposed to be standing there, brisk and confi- 
dent and cheerful, with the incriminating papers at his feet. But 
he was. 

I stooped to pick up the papers, and he watched me from, his 
height. 

“Judge,” I said, “I’ll be back tomorrow. You think it over, and 
make up your mind tomorrow.” 

“Why, it’s made up.” 

“You’ll-” 

“No, Jack.” 

1 went to the hall door. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” I said. 

“Sure, sure. You come back. But my mind is made up.” 

I walked down the hall without saying good-bye. I had my hand 
lifted to the front door when I heard his voice calling my name. 
I turned and took a few steps toward him. He had come out into 
the hall. “1 just wanted to tell you,” he said, “that I did learn 
something new from those interesting documents. I learned that 
my old friend Governor Stanton impaired his honor to protect me. 
I do not know whether to be more glad or sorry, at the fact. At 
the knowledge of his attachment or the knowledge of the pain it 
cost him. He had never told me. That was the pitch of his gener- 
osity. Wasn’t it? Not ever telling me.” 

I mumbled something to the effect that I supposed it was. 

“I just wanted you to know about the Governor. That his fail- 
ing was a defect of his virtue. The virtue of affection for a friend.” 

I didn't mumble anything to that. 

“I just wanted you to know that about the Governor,” he said. 

“All right,” 1 said, and went to the front door, feeling his yellow 
gaze and calm smile upon me, and out into the blaze of light. 

It was still hotter than hell’s hinges as I walked up the Row to- 
ward home. I debated a swim or getting into my car and heading 
back to town to tell the Boss that Judge Irwin wouldn’t budge. 
Then I decided that I might wait over another day. I might wait 

369 



on just the chance that the Judge would change his mind. But 1 
wouldn^t swim till later. It was too hot even to swim now. I would 
take a shower when I got in and lie down till it had cooled off 
enough for a swim. 

I took my shower and lay down on my bed and went to sleep. 

I came out of the sleep and popped straight up in the bed. I was 
wide awake. The sound that had awakened me was still ringing 
in my ears. I knew that it had been a scream. Then it came again. 
A bright, beautiful, silvery soprano scream. 

I bounced off the bed and started for the door, realized that I 
was buck-naked, grabbed a robe, and ran out. There was a noise 
down the hall from my mother^s room, a sbund like moaning. The 
door was open and I ran in. 

She was sitting on the edge of her bed, wearing a negligee, clutch- 
ing the white bedside telephone in her hand, staring at me with 
wide, wild eyes, and moaning in a spaced, automatic fashion. I 
went toward her. She dropped the telephone to the floor with a 
clatter, and pointed her finger at me and cried out, “You did it, 
you did, you killed him!" 

“What?” I demanded, “what?” 

•Tou killed himl” 

“KiUed who?” 

“You killed himi” She began to laugh hysterically. 

I was holding her by the shoulders now, shaking her, trying to 
make her stop laughing, but she kept clawing and pushing at me. 
She stopped laughing an instant to gasp for breath, and in that 
interval I heard the dry, clicking signal the telephone was making 
to call attention to the fact it was not on its rack. Then her laugh- 
ter drowned out the sound. 

“Shut up, shut upl” I commanded, and she suddenly stared at 
me as though just discovering my presence. 

Then, not loud now but with intensity, she said, “You killed 
him, you killed him.” 

“Killed who?” I demanded, shaking her. 

“Your father,” she said, “your father and ohi you killed him.” 

That was how I found out. At the moment the finding out 
simply numbed me. When a heavy-caliber slug hits you, you, may 
spin around but you don't feel a thing. Not at first. Anyway, I 'was 
busy. My mother was in bad shape. By this time there were a couple 
of black faces at the door, the cook and the maid, and I was damn- 
ing them to get Dr. Bland and stop gawking. Then I raked the 
clicking telephone up off the floor so they could use the one down- 

370 



stairs, and let my mother go long enough to slam the door to keep 
those all-seeing, all-knowing eyes off what was happening. 

My mother was talking between her moans and laughing. She 
TOS saying how she had loved him and how he was the only per- 
son she had ever loved and how I had killed him and had killed 
my own father and a lot of stuff like that. She was still carrying 
on when Dr. Bland arrived and gave her the hypodermic. Across 
her form on the bed, from which the moans and the mutterings 
were now subsiding, he turned his gray, gray-bearded owlish face 
and said, sending a nurse up here. A very trustworthy 

woman. Nobody else is to come in here. Do you understand?*' 

“Yes," I told him, for I understood, and understood that he had 
understood perfectly well what my mother's wild talking had 
meant. 

“You stay here till the nurse arrives," he said, “and don't let 
anybody in. And the nurse isn’t supposed to let anybody in until 
I get back to see if your mother is normal. Not anybody.’* 

I nodded, and followed him to the door of the room. 

After he had said his good-bye, I detained him a moment. "Doo 
tor," I asked, “what about the Judge? I didn't get it straight from 
my mother. Was it a stroke?" 

“No," he said, and inspected my face. 

“Well, what was it?" 

“He shot himself this afternoon," he replied, still inspecting my 
face. But then he added quite matter-of-factly, “It was undoubtedly 
a question of health. His health was failing, A very active man— 
a sportsman— very often—" he was even more dry and detached in 
his tone— “very often such a man doesn't want to face the last years 
of limited activity. Yes, I am sure that that was the reason." 

I didn't answer. 

^ “Good day, sir," the doctor said, and took his eyes off me and 
started down the hall. 

He was almost to the head of the stairs before I called, “Doctorl" 
and ran after him. 

I came up to him and said, “Doctor, where did he shoot him- 
self? What part of the body, I mean? Not the head?" 

“Straight through the heart," he said. And added, “A .38 auto- 
matic. A very clean wound." 

Then he went off down the stairs. I stood there and thought how 
the dead man was shot through the heart, a very clean wound, and 
not through the head with the muzzle of the weapon put into the 
mouth to blaze into the soft membranes to scorch them and the top 

371 



of the skull exploding off like an egg to make an awful mess. I stood 
there, and was greatly relieved to think of the nice clean wound. 

I went to my own room, snatched up some clothes, and then went 
back to my mother's room, and shut the door. I dressed and sat by 
the side of the big magnificent tester bed in which the lace-filmed 
form looked so small. I noticed how the bosom looked slack and the 
face sunken and grayish. The mouth was somewhat open and the 
breath through it heavy. I scarcely recognized the face. Certainly it 
was not the face of the girl in the lettuce-green dress and with the 
golden hair who had stood by the stocky, dark-suited man on the 
steps of a company commissary in a lumber town in Arkansas, forty 
years before, while the scream of saws filled the air and the head 
like a violated nerve and the red earth between the fields of stumps 
curdled with pale green and steamed in the spring sun. It was not 
the famish-cheeked, glowing face that, back in those years, had 
looked up eagerly and desperately to the hawk-headed, hot-eyed 
man in sdleys of myrtle or in secret pine groves or in shuttered 
rooms. No, it was an old face now. And I felt very sorry for it I 
reached across to take one of the unconscious hands which lay loose 
on the sheet 

I held the hand and tried to imagine how things would have been 
if it had not been the Scholarly Attorney but his friend who had 
gone to the little lumber town in Arkansas. No, that wouldn't have 
helped much, I decided, remembering that at that time Monty 
Irwin had been married to an invalid wife, the first wife, who had 
been crippled by being thrown from a horse and who had lain in 
bed for some years and had then died quietly and sunk from our 
sight and thought at the Landing. No doubt Monty Irwin had been 
held by some notion of obligation to that invalid wife: he hadn't 
been able to divorce her and marry the other woman. No doubt that 
was why he had not married the famish-cheeked girl, why he 
had not gone to his friend the Scholarly Attorney and told him, "I 
love your wife," or why, after the husband had learned the truth, as 
he must have done to make him walk out of the house and away to 
all the years in the slum garrets, he had not then married her. He 
still had his own wife then, to whom, because she was an invalid, 
he must have felt bound with a kind of twisted honor. Then my 
mother had married again. There must have been bitterness and 
dire quarrels all along mixed with the stolen satisfactions and 
ardors. Then the invalid had died. Why hadn’t they married then? 
Perhaps my mother wouldn't then, to punish him for his own 
earlier refusals. Or perhaps their life was by this time set into a 
Dattem they cohldn't break. Anyway, he had married the woman 

372 



from Savannah, the woman who hadn’t brought him anything, 
neither money nor happiness, but who had, after a certain time, 
died. Why hadn’t they married then? 

I dismissed tlie question finally. Perhaps the only answer, I 
thought then, was that by the time we understand the pattern we 
are in, the definition we are making for ourselves, it is too late to 
break out of the box. We can only live in terms of the definition, 
like the prisoner in the cage in which he cannot lie or stand or sit, 
hung up in justice to be viewed by the populace. Yet the definition 
we have made of ourselves is ourselves. To break out of it, we must 
make a new self. But how can the self make a new self when the 
self ness which it is, is the only substance from which the new self 
can be made? At least that was the way I argued the case back then. 

As I say, I dismissed the question, and dismissed the answer I 
had tried to give to it, and simply held the lax hand between my 
own, and listened to the heavy breathing from the sunken face, and 
thought how in the scream which had snatched me from sleep that 
afternoon there had been the bright, beautiful, silver purity of 
feeling. It had been, I decided, the true cry of the buried soul which 
had managed, for one instant after all the years, to utter itself again. 
Well, she had loved Monty Irwin, I supposed. I had thought that 
she had never loved anybody. So now, as I held the hand, I felt not 
only pity for her but something like love, too, because she had loved 
somebody. 

After a while the nurse came and released me from the room. 
Then Mrs. Daniell, who was a neighbor of Judge Irwin, came by 
to see my mother. It had been her telephone call which brought the 
news to my mother. Mrs. Daniell had heard the shot in the after- 
noon but had thought nothing about it until the colored boy at the 
Irwin place ran out into the yard and began yelling. She had gone 
back into the house with the boy, and had seen the Judge sitting in 
one of the big leather chairs in his library with the pistol on his 
knee, his head canted over on one shoulder, and the blood spread- 
ing out over the left side of the white coat. She had plenty to tell, 
and she was working down the Row in a systematic fashion. She 
told me her story, pried unsuccessfully into my visit there of the 
afternoon and into my mother’s indisposition (she had, of course, 
heard the screams on die telephone), and then took her leave with- 
out much to add to her basic narrative at the next port of call. 

The Young Executive came in about seven o’clock. He already 
knew about the death of Judge Irwin, but I had to tell him about 
my mother. I made it damned plain and without trimmings that 

m 



he was^to stay out o£ her room. Then he and I went out on the side 
gallery and had a silent drink together. I didn't mind his presence 
more than a shadow. 

Two days later Judge Irwin was buried in the churchyard under 
the ghostly, moss-garlanded oaks. Earlier, in his house, I had filed 
past the coffin with everybody else and had looked down at the 
dead face. The hawk nose seemed to be paper tliin and almost trans- 
parent. The usual strong color of the flesh was gone and on the 
cheeks tliere was only the coy tint. of the mortician's art. But the 
coarse rufous hair, thinner than ever, seemed to stand up elec- 
trically and individually from the high-domed skull. The people 
filed past, looked down, murmured to each other, and went to stand 
at the end of the drawing room near the potted palms imported for 
the occasion. Thus the fact of his death was absorbed effortlessly 
into the life of the community, like a single tiny drop of stain 
dropped into a glass of clear water. It would spread outward and 
outward from the point of vindictive concentration, raveling and 
thinning away, drawing away the central fact of the stain until noth- 
ing at all was visible. 

I stood then in the churchyard, while the process was being com- 
pleted, and the earth, a mixture of sand and the black surface 
humus, was being shoveled into the hole where Judge Irwin lay. I 
thought how he had forgotten the name of Mortimer L. Little- 
paugh, had forgotten that he had ever existed, but how Mortimer 
had never forgotten him. Mortimer had been dead more than a score 
of years but he had never forgotten Judge Irwin. Remembering the 
letter in his sister's trunk, he had worn his fleshless grin and sound- 
less chuckle and waited. Judge Irwin had killed Mortimer L. Little- 
paugh. But Mortimer had killed Judge Irwin in the end. Or had it 
been Mortimer? Perhaps I had done it. That was one way of look- 
ing at it. I turned that thought over and speculated upon my re- 
sponsibility. It would be quite possible to say that I had none, no 
more than Mortimer had. Mortimer had killed Judge Irwin because 
Judge Irwin had killed him, and I had killed Judge Irwin because 
Judge Irwin had created me, and looking at matters in that light 
one could say that Mortimer and I were merely the twin instru- 
ments of Judge Irwin's protracted and ineluctable self-destruction. 
For either killing or creating may be a crime punishable by death, 
and the death always comes by the criminal's own hand and every 
man is a suicide. If a man knew how to live he would never die. 

They filled up the hole and rounded off a neat mound on which 
they placed a carpet of artificial grass, savagely green, in the church- 

374 



yard where, under the dense shade of moss and boughs and under 
the mat of trodden leaves, no natural grass ever sprang; Then fol- 
lowing the decorous crowd, I left the dead man under that green 
grass of the mortician’s fancy which spared all tender sensibilities 
the sight of raw earth and proclaimed that nothing whatsoever had 
happened and veiled, as it were, all significance of life and death* 

So I left my father, and walked down the Row. I had by this time 
grown accustomed to think of him as my father. But this meant that 
I had disaccustomed myself to thinking of the man who had been 
the Scholarly Attorney as my father. There was a kind of relief in 
knowing that that man was not my father. I had always felt some 
curse of his weakness uj)on me, or what I had felt to be that. He 
had had a beautiful and eager young wife and another man had 
taken her away from him and had fathered his child, and all he had 
done was to walk away, leaving her in possession of everything he 
owned, and crawl into a hole in the slums and lie there like a, 
wounded animal and let his intellect bleed away into pious drivel 
and his strength bleed away into weakness. And he had been good. 
But his goodness had told me nothing except that I could not live 
by it. My new father, however, had not been good. He had 
cuckolded a friend, betrayed a wife, taken a bribe, driven a man, 
though unwittingly to death. But he had done good. He had been a 
just judge. And he had carried his head high. That last afternooa 
of his life he had done that. He hadn’t said, “Look here. Jack, you 
can't do it— you can’t— you see, you see— I am your father.” 

Well, I had swapped the good, weak father for the evil, strong" 
one. I didn't feel bad about it. I felt sorry for the Judge as I walked 
down the Row by the sea, but as far as I myself was concerned I 
didn’t feel dissatisfied with the swap. Then I thought of the other 
old man leaning over the half-wit acrobat in the grubby room and 
holding out the bit of chocolate to the tear-stained face, and I, 
thought of the child on the rug before the fire and the stocky black- 
coated man leaning to him and saying, “Here, Son, just one bite 
before supper.” Then I wasn’t so sure what I felt. 

So I quit trying to decide. There was no use trying to probe my 
feelings about them, for I had lost both of them. Most people lose 
one father, but I was peculiarly situated, I had lost two at the same 
instant. I had dug up the truth and the truth always kills the father, 
the good and weak one or the bad and strong one, and you are left 
alone with yourself and the truth, and can never ask Dad, who 
didn’t know anyway and who is deader than mackerel. 

The next day, after I was back in town, I got a call from the 
Landing. It was a Mr. Pettus, who, it turned out, was the Judge’.s 

375 



executor. According to what he said, I was, except for a few minor 
hequests to servants, the sole heir. I was the sole heir to the estate 
which Judge Irwin had saved, years before, by his single act of dis- 
honesty, the act for which I, as the blameless instrument of justice, 
had put the pistol to his heart. , . , v 

The whole arrangement seemed so crazy and so logical that after 
1 had hung up the phone I burst out laughing and could scarcely 
stop. Before I stopped, as a matter of fact, I found that I was not 
laughing at all but was weeping and was saying over and over again, 
'‘The poor old bugger, the poor old bugger.” It was like the ice 
breaking up after a long winter. And the winter had been long. 



Chapter Nine 


AFTER a great blow, or crisis, after the first shock and then after 
the nerves have stopped screaming and twitching, you settle down 
to the new condition of things and feel that all possibility of change 
has been used up. You adjust yourself, and are sure that the new 
equilibrium is for eternity. After the death of Judge Irwin, after I 
got back to the city, I felt that way. I felt that a story was over, that 
what had been begun a long time back had been played out, that 
the lemon had been squeezed dry. But if anything is certain it is 
that no story is ever over, for the story which we think is over is only 
a chapter in a story which will not be over, and it isn’t the game 
that is over, it is just an inning, and that game has a lot more than 
nine innings. \Vlien the game stops it will be called on account of 
darkness. But it is a long day. 

The little game the Boss was playing war not over. But I had 
nearly forgotten all about it. I had forgotten that the story of Judge 
Irwin, which seemed so complete in itself, was only a chapter in 
the longer story of the Boss, which was not over and which was itself 
merely a chapter in another bigger story. 

The Boss looked across the desk at me as I walked in, and said, 
‘'God damn it, so the bastard crawled out on me.” 

I didn’t say anything. 

“I didn’t tell you to scare him to death, I just told you to scare 
him.” 

“He wasn’t scared,” I said. 

“What the hell did he do it for then?” 

“I told you a long time back when the mess started he wouldn't 
scare.” 

“Well, why did he do it?” 

“I don’t want to discuss it.” 

“Well, why did he do it?” 

“God damn it,” I said, “didn't I tell you I didn't want to dis- 
cuss it?” 


377 



He looked at me with some surprise, got up from his chair and 
came around the desk, “I’m sorry,” he said, and put his heavy hand 
on my shoulder. 

I moved out from under the hand. 

“Fm sorry,” he repeated. “He had been quite a pal of yours at 
one time, hadn’t he?” 

“Yeah,” I said. 

He sat back on the desk and raised one big knee to clasp his 
hands around it. 

“There is still MacMurfee,” he said reflectively. 

“Yes, there is MacMurfee, but if you want any blackmailing done, 
get somebody else to do it.” 

“Even on MacMurfee?” he asked, with a hint of jocularity, to 
which I didn’t respond. 

“Even on MacMurfee,” I said. 

“Hey,” he demanded, “you aren’t quitting me?” 

“No, I'm just quitting certain things.” 

“Well, it was true, wasn’t it?” 

“What?” 

“What the Judge did, whatever the hell it was.” 

I couldn’t deny that. I had to say yes. So I nodded and said, “Yes, 
he did it.” 

'“Well?” he demanded. 

“I said what I said.” 

He was studying me drowsily from under the shagged-down fore- 
lock. “Boy,” he said then, soberly, “we been together a long time. I 
hope we’ll be in it together all the way. We been in it up to the ears, 
both of us, you and me, boy.” 

I didn’t answer. 

He continued to study me. Then he said, “Don’t you worry. It’ll 
all come out all right.” 

“Yeah,” I said sourly, “you’ll be Senator.” 

“I didn’t mean that. I could be Senator right now if that w'as all.” 

“What did you mean?” 

He didn’t answer for a moment, not even looking at me but down 
at the hands clasped around the crooked knee. “Hell,” he said sud- 
denly, “forget it.” Suddenly, he released the knee, the leg dropped, 
the foot struck the floor heavily, and he lunged off the desk. “But 
nobody had better forget—MacMurfee and nobody else— that Til do 
what I’ve got to do. By God, I’ll do it if I’ve got to break their bones 
with my bare hands.” And he held the hands before him with 
spread fingers, crooked and tense as though to seize. 

378 



He sank back against the support oi the desk then, and said, half 
as though to himself, 'That Frey, now. That Frey/" 

Then he fell into a brooding silence, which, had Frey been able 
to see it, would have made him very happy to be way off there on 
the Arkansas farm with no forwarding address left behind. 

So the story of the Boss and MacMurfee, of which the story of 
Judge Irwin had been but a part, went on, but I had no hand in it. 
I went back to my own innocent little chores and sat in my office 
as the fall drew imperceptibly on and the earth leaned on its axis 
and shouldered the spot I occupied a little out of the direct, billow- 
ing, crystalline, consuming blaze of the enormous sun. The leaves 
rattled dryly on the live oaks when a breeze sprang up in the eve- 
nings, the matted jungles of sugar cane in the country beyond the 
concrete walks and trolley lines were felled now by the heavy knife 
and in the evenings the great high-wheeled carts groaned along the 
rutted tracks, piled high with the fetid-sweet burden, and far off 
across the flat black fields laid bare by the knife, under the saffron 
sky, some nigger sang sadly about the transaction between him and 
Jesus. Out at the University, on the practice field, the toe of some 
long-legged, slug-footed, box-shouldered lad kept smacking the 
leather, over and over, and farther away the scrimmage surged and 
heaved to the sound of shouts and peremptory whistles. On Satur- 
day nights under the glare of the battery of lights, the stadium 
echoed to the roar of "Toml—Toml— Tom!— yea, Tom!** For Tom 
Stark carried the ball, Tom Stark wheeled the end, Tom Stark 
knifed the line, and it was Tom, Tom, Tom. 

The sports writers said he was better than ever. Meanwhile he 
was making his old man sweat. The Boss was dour as a teetotaling 
Scot, and the office force walked on tiptoe and girls suddenly burst 
out crying over their typewriters after they had been in to take dic- 
tation and state officials coming out of the inner- room laid a hand- 
kercliief to the pallid brow with one hand and with the other 
groped across tlie long room under the painted eyes of all the gilt- 
framed dead governors. Only Sadie suffered no change. She bit her 
syllables off the way a seamstress snaps off the thread, and Jooked at 
the Boss with her dark, unquenched glance, like the spirit of the 
future meditating on your hopeful plans. 

The only times the Boss got the black dog off his shoulder those 
days were at the games. I went with him a couple of times, and 
when Tom uncorked his stuff the Boss was a changed man. His eyes 
would bug and gleam, and he would slap me on the back and grab 
me like a bear^ There might be a flicker of that left the next morn- 
ing when he opened the Sunday sporting page, but it certainly 

379 



didn’t last out the week. And Tom was not doing a thing to make 
up to the old man for the trouble he had caused. They had high 
words once or twice because Tom would slack oflE on his training 
and had had a row with Billie Martin, the coach. ‘‘What the hell’s 
it to you?” Tom demanded, standing there in the middle of the 
hotel room, his feet apart as though he were on a swaying deck and 
his head weathed in the cigar smoke of the place. “What the hell’s 
it to you, or Martin either, so long as I can put ’em across? And I 
can put ’em across, see. I can still put ’em across, and what the hell 
else do you want? I can put ’em across and you can big-shot around 
about it. That’s what you want, isn’t it?” 

And with those remarks, Tom Stark went out and slammed the 
door, probably leaving the Boss paralyzed with the rush of blood to 
his head. 

“That’s what he said to me,” the Boss told me, “by God, that’s 
what he said, and I ought to slapped him down.” But he was 
shaken. You could see that, all right. 

Meanwhile the Boss had handled the Sibyl Frey business. I had, 
as I said, no part in it. What happened was, however, simple and 
predictable. There had been two ways to get at MacMurfee: Judge 
Irwin and Gummy Larson. The Boss had tried to scare the Judge, 
and that had failed. So now he had to buy Gummy. He could buy 
Gummy because Gummy was a businessman. Strictly business. He 
would sell anything for the proper figure, immortal soul or mother’s 
sainted bones, and his old friend MacMurfee was neither. If 
Gummy told MacMurfee to lay off, that he wasn’t going to be Sena- 
tor, MacMurfee would lay off, because without Gummy, Mac- 
Murfee was nothing. 

The Boss had no choice. He had to buy. He might have dealt 
directly with MacMurfee, and have let MacMurfee go to the Senate, 
with the intention of following up himself when the next senatorial 
election roiled around. But there were two arguments against that 
First, the timing would have been bad. Now was the time for the 
Boss to step out. Later on he would be just another Senator getting 
on toward fifty. Now he would be a boy wonder breatliing brim- 
stone. He would have a futizre. Second, if he let MacMurfee climb 
back on the gravy train, a lot of people on whose brows the cold 
sweat would break now if even in the privacy of the boudoir the 
mere thought of crossing the Boss should davm on them would 
figure that you could buck the Boss and get away with it. They 
would begin to make friends and swap cigars with friends of Mac- 
Murfee. They would even begin to get ideas of their own. But there 
was a third argument, too, against doing business with MacMurfee. 

380 



It was, rather, not an argument; it was simply a fact. The fact was 
that the Boss was the way he was. If MacMurfee had forced him 
into a compromise, at least MacMurfee shouldn't be the one to 
profit by it. So he did business with Gummy Larson. 

The figure was not cheap. It was not peanuts. It was the medical- 
center contract, the general contract. It would be arranged tliat Lar- 
son would get the contract. 

But I had nothing to do with the arranging. Duffy did that, for 
he had been pulling all along for such an arrangement, and I sup- 
pose that he must have got some sort of private kickback or sweeten- 
ing from Larson. Well, I don't begrudge him that. He had worked 
for it. He had cringed and sweated and felt the baleful speculative 
stare of the Boss on him in the long silence after he had tried to 
sell the idea of Gummy Larson. It wasn't his fault that an accident 
now made the deal possible and not his own conscientious efforts. 
So I don't begrudge him his sweetening. 

All of this went on behind my back, or perhaps even under my 
eyes, for in those days as fall came on I felt as though I were 
gradually withdrawing from the world around me* It could go its 
way and I would go mine. Or I would have gone my way if I had 
known what it was. I toyed with the thought of going away, of say- 
ing to the Boss, **Boss, I'm getting the hell away from here and 
never coming back." I could afford to do it, I thought. I didn't have 
to lift a finger for my morning sinker and Java. Maybe I wouldn't 
be rich-rich, but I figured I was going to be rich in a nice, genteel. 
Southern way. Nobody down here ever wants to be rich-rich, for 
that, of course, would be crass and vulgar. So I was going to be just 
genteel rich. As soon as they wound up the Judge's estate. (If they 
ever did, for his affairs were complicated and it was going to take 
some time.) 

I was going to be genteel rich, for I had inherited the fruit of the 
Judge's crime, just as some day I would inherit from my mother the 
fruit of the Scholarly Attorney's weakness, the money he had left 
with her when he learned the truth and just walked away. On the 
proceeds of the Judge's old crime I would be able to go away and 
lead a nice, clean, blameless life in some place where you sit under 
a striped awning beside a marble-topped table and drink vermouth, 
cassis and soda and look out over the wimpling, dimpling, famous 
sunlit blue of the sea. But I didn't go. True, since I had lost both 
my fathers, I felt as though I could float effortlessly away like a bal- 
loon when the last cord is cut. But I would have to go on the money 
from Judge Irwin. And that particular money, which would have 
made the trip possible, was at the same time, paradoxically enough, 

381 



a bond that held me here. To change the image, it was a long cable 
to an anchor, and the anchor flukes clung and bit way down there 
in the seaweed and ooze of a long time past. Perhaps I was a fool to 
feel that way about my little inheritance. Perhaps it was no different 
from any other inheritance anybody had. Perhaps the Emperor Ves- 
pasian was right when, jingling in his jeans the money which had 
been derived from a tax on urinals, he wittily remarked: ''Pecunia 
non olei.** 

I didn’t go away, but I was out of the swim of things, and sat in 
my ofl&ce or out at the University library and read books and mono- 
graphs on taxation, for I now had a nice clean assignment to work 
on: a tax bill, I knew so little of what was going on that it wasn’t 
until the arrangement was an accomplished fact that I knew any- 
thing about it. 

I went up to the Mansion one night with my brief case full of 
notes and charts to have a session with the Boss. The Boss was not 
alone. Back diere in the library with him were Tiny Duffy, Sugar- 
Boy, and, to my surprise. Gummy Larson. Sugar-Boy sat over in a 
corner, hunched in a chair and holding a glass between both hands, 
the way a child holds a glass. Out of the glass he would take little 
finicking sips, after each sip lifting his head up the way a chicken 
does when it drinks. Sugar-Boy wasn’t a drinker. He was afraid, he 
said, it might make him "‘n-n-n-n-ner-ner-vous.” It would have been 
awful if Sugar-Boy got so nervous he couldn’t bust jelly glasses every 
shot when you threw them up in the air for him or couldn’t wipe a 
mule’s nose with the rear fender of the black Cadillac. Duffy, of 
course, was a drinker, but he wasn’t drinking that night. He obvi. 
ously was not in any mood for drinking, even if in fleeting glimpses 
one caught a glimmer of triumph mixed with the acute discomfort 
he was experiencing as he stood in the open space in front of the 
big leather couch. The discomfort was due, in part at least, to the 
fact that the Boss was, very definitely, drinking, for when the Boss 
really drank, what tender inhibitions ordinarily shackled up his 
tongue were absolutely removed. And now he was drinking all right. 
It looked like the first fine flush of a three-day blow and the barom- 
eter falling. He was cocked back on the leather couch with a pitcher 
of water, a bottle, and a bowl of ice on the floor beside his crumpled 
coat and empty shoes. When the Boss really got the works, he 
usually took off his shoes. He was sock-feet drunk now. The bottle 
was a long way down. 

Mr. Larson stood back from the foot of the couch, a middle-sized, 
middle-aged, compact, gray-faced, gray-suited, unimaginative-look- 
ing man. He did not drink. He had once been a gambling-house 



operator and had found that it did not pay to drink. Gummy was 
strictly business and he didn’t do anything unless it paid. 

As I entered and took in the layout, the Boss put his already red- 
rimmed gaze on me, but didn’t say a word until I approached the 
open space in front of the couch. Then he flung out an arm to indi- 
cate Tiny, who stood in the middle of that unprotected open space, 
with a wan smile on his tallow. **LookI” the Boss said to me, point- 
ing. ‘‘He was the one going to fix it up with Larson, and what did 
I tell him? I told him, hell, no. Hell, no, I told him, I’d be damned 
first. And what happened?” 

I took that as rhetorical question and said nothing. I could see 
that the tax bill was out for the evening, and started sidling back 
the way I had come. 

“And what happened?” the Boss bellowed at me. 

“How do I know?” I asked, but with that cast present I had be- 
gun to have a fair notion of the nature of the drama. 

The Boss swung his head toward Tiny. “Tell him,” he com- 
manded, “tell him, and tell him how puking smart you feel!” 

Tiny didn’t manage it. All he managed was the wan smile like a 
winter dawn above the expanse of expensive black tailoring and the 
white-piped waistcoat and diamond pin. 

“Tell himl” 

Tiny licked his lips and glanced shyly as a bride at the impassive, 
gray-faced Gummy, but he didn’t manage it. 

'“Well, I’ll tell you,” the Boss said, “Qummy Larson is going to 
build tny hospital and Tiny fixed it up like he has been trying to 
do and everybody is happy.” 

“That’s fine,” I said. 

“Yeah, everybody is happy,” the Boss said. “Except me. Except 
me,” he repeated, and struck himself heavily on the chest. “For I’m 
the one said to Tiny, Hell, no, I won’t deal with Larson. For I’m 
the one wouldn’t let Larson come in this room when Tiny got him 
here. For I’m the one ought to driven him out of this state long 
ago. And where is he now? Where is he now?” 

I looked over at Gummy Larson, whose gray face didn’t show a 
thing. Way back in the old days, when I had first known Gummy 
and he had been a gambling-house operator, the police had beat 
him up one time. Probably because he got behind in his protection 
money. They had worked over his face until it looked like uncooked 
hamburger. But that had healed up now. He had Known it would 
heal up and had taken the beating without opening his trap be- 
cause it always paid to keep your trap shut. It had paid him in the 
end. Eventually he was a rich contractor and not a gambling-house 

383 



operator. He was a rich contractor because he had finally made the 
right connections in the City Hall and because he knew how to keep 
his mouth shut. Now he stood there on the floor and took every- 
thing the Boss was throwing at him. Because it paid. Gummy had 
the instincts of a businessman, all right. 

“I’ll tell you where he is,” the Boss said. “Look, there he is. Right 
in this room. Standing right there, and look at him. He is a beauty, 
ain’t he? Know what he has just done? He has just sold out his best 
pal. He has just sold out MacMurfee.” 

Larson might have been standing in church, waiting for the bene- 
diction, for all his face showed. 

“Oh, but that isn’t anything. Not a thing. Not for Gummy.” 

Who didn’t twitch a muscle. 

“Oh, not for Gummy. The only difference between him and 
Judas Iscariot is that Gummy would have got some boot with that 
thirty pieces of silver. Oh, Gummy would sell out anything. He sold 
out his best pal, and I— and I—” he struck himself savagely on the 
chest with a hollow sound like a thump on a barrel““and I— I had 
to buy, the sons-of-bitches made me buy!” 

He relapsed into silence, glowered across at Gummy, then reached 
down for the bottle. He poured a lot into the glass, and sloshed in 
some water. He wasn’t bothering with ice now. He was nearly down 
to essentials. Before long the water would go. 

Gummy, from the vast distance of sobriety and victory and the 
moral certainty which comes from an accurate knowledge of exactly 
to the penny what everything in the whole world is worth, surveyed 
the figure on the couch, and when the pitcher had been set back 
down, said, “If we’ve got our business arranged. Governor, I think 
I’ll be on my way.” 

“Yeah,” the Boss said, “yeah,” and swung his sock-feet to the 
floor, “yeah, it’s arranged, by God. But—” he stood up, clutching the 
glass in one hand, and shook himself like a big dog, so that some of 
the liquor sloshed from the glass— “listen here!” He started across to 
Larson, sock-feet heavy on the rug, head thrust out. 

Tiny Duffy wasn’t exactly in the way, but he didn’t give back 
fully enough or perhaps with enough alacrity. Anyway, the Boss 
nearly brushed him in passing, or perhaps did brush him. At that 
instant, without even looking at his target, the Boss flung the liquid 
in his glass full into Duffy’s face. And in one motion simply let the 
glass fall to the floor. It bounced on the rug, not breaking. 

I could see Duffy’s face at the moment of contact, the big pie face 
of surprise which reminded me of the time years before when the 
Boss h